Research Article

Integrative functional genomic analysis of human brain development and neuropsychiatric risks

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Science  14 Dec 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6420, eaat7615
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat7615

Structured Abstract

INTRODUCTION

The brain is responsible for cognition, behavior, and much of what makes us uniquely human. The development of the brain is a highly complex process, and this process is reliant on precise regulation of molecular and cellular events grounded in the spatiotemporal regulation of the transcriptome. Disruption of this regulation can lead to neuropsychiatric disorders.

RATIONALE

The regulatory, epigenomic, and transcriptomic features of the human brain have not been comprehensively compiled across time, regions, or cell types. Understanding the etiology of neuropsychiatric disorders requires knowledge not just of endpoint differences between healthy and diseased brains but also of the developmental and cellular contexts in which these differences arise. Moreover, an emerging body of research indicates that many aspects of the development and physiology of the human brain are not well recapitulated in model organisms, and therefore it is necessary that neuropsychiatric disorders be understood in the broader context of the developing and adult human brain.

RESULTS

Here we describe the generation and analysis of a variety of genomic data modalities at the tissue and single-cell levels, including transcriptome, DNA methylation, and histone modifications across multiple brain regions ranging in age from embryonic development through adulthood. We observed a widespread transcriptomic transition beginning during late fetal development and consisting of sharply decreased regional differences. This reduction coincided with increases in the transcriptional signatures of mature neurons and the expression of genes associated with dendrite development, synapse development, and neuronal activity, all of which were temporally synchronous across neocortical areas, as well as myelination and oligodendrocytes, which were asynchronous. Moreover, genes including MEF2C, SATB2, and TCF4, with genetic associations to multiple brain-related traits and disorders, converged in a small number of modules exhibiting spatial or spatiotemporal specificity.

CONCLUSION

We generated and applied our dataset to document transcriptomic and epigenetic changes across human development and then related those changes to major neuropsychiatric disorders. These data allowed us to identify genes, cell types, gene coexpression modules, and spatiotemporal loci where disease risk might converge, demonstrating the utility of the dataset and providing new insights into human development and disease.

Spatiotemporal dynamics of human brain development and neuropsychiatric risks.

Human brain development begins during embryonic development and continues through adulthood (top). Integrating data modalities (bottom left) revealed age- and cell type–specific properties and global patterns of transcriptional dynamics, including a late fetal transition (bottom middle). We related the variation in gene expression (brown, high; purple, low) to regulatory elements in the fetal and adult brains, cell type–specific signatures, and genetic loci associated with neuropsychiatric disorders (bottom right; gray circles indicate enrichment for corresponding features among module genes). Relationships depicted in this panel do not correspond to specific observations. CBC, cerebellar cortex; STR, striatum; HIP, hippocampus; MD, mediodorsal nucleus of thalamus; AMY, amygdala.

Abstract

To broaden our understanding of human neurodevelopment, we profiled transcriptomic and epigenomic landscapes across brain regions and/or cell types for the entire span of prenatal and postnatal development. Integrative analysis revealed temporal, regional, sex, and cell type–specific dynamics. We observed a global transcriptomic cup-shaped pattern, characterized by a late fetal transition associated with sharply decreased regional differences and changes in cellular composition and maturation, followed by a reversal in childhood-adolescence, and accompanied by epigenomic reorganizations. Analysis of gene coexpression modules revealed relationships with epigenomic regulation and neurodevelopmental processes. Genes with genetic associations to brain-based traits and neuropsychiatric disorders (including MEF2C, SATB2, SOX5, TCF4, and TSHZ3) converged in a small number of modules and distinct cell types, revealing insights into neurodevelopment and the genomic basis of neuropsychiatric risks.

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