UC San Diego researchers led a study published Thursday that analyzed more than 1 million human brain cells and found links between specific types of cells and various common neuropsychiatric disorders.

The work, published Thursday in a special issue of Science, is part of the National Institute of Health’s Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative, or The BRAIN Initiative, which began in 2014. The initiative “aims to revolutionize understanding of the mammalian brain, in part, through the development of novel neurotechnologies for characterizing neural cell types,” a statement from the NIH read.

According to a UCSD statement, the team used the cells it analyzed to produce detailed maps of gene switches in brain cell types and also developed artificial intelligence tools to predict the influence of individual high-risk gene variants among these cells and how they may contribute to disease.

Every cell in a human brain contains the same sequence of DNA, but different cell types use different genes and in different amounts, researchers said. The variation produces different types of brain cells and contributes to the complexity of neural circuits.

“The human brain isn’t homogenous,” said senior author Bing Ren, a professor at UCSD School of Medicine. “It’s made up of an enormously complex network of neurons and non-neuronal cells, with each serving different functions.

“Mapping out the different types of cells in the brain and understanding how they work together will ultimately help us discover new therapies that can target individual cell types relevant to specific diseases,” Ren said.

The researchers analyzed brain cells across 42 distinct brain regions from three human brains. They identified 107 different subtypes of brain cells and were able to “correlate aspects of their molecular biology to a wide range of neuropsychiatric illnesses, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, and major depression,” according to UCSD.

In 2022, UC San Diego joined the Salk Institute and others in launching a Center for Multiomic Human Brain Cell Atlas, which aims to study cells from over a dozen human brains and ask questions about how the brain changes during development, over people’s lifespans, and with disease.

“Scaling up our work to an even greater level of detail on a larger number of brains will bring us one step closer to understanding the biology of neuropsychiatric disorders and how it can be rehabilitated,” Ren said.

— City News Service