Transcriptome studies have revealed a surprisingly high level of variation among individuals in expression of key genes in the CNS under both normal and experimental conditions. Ten-fold variation is common, yet the specific causes and consequences of this variation are largely unknown. By combining classic gene mapping methods-family linkage studies and genomewide association-with high-throughput genomics, it is now possible to define quantitative trait loci (QTLs), single-gene variants, and even single SNPs and indels that control gene expression in different brain regions and cells. This review considers some of the major technical and conceptual challenges in analyzing variation in expression in the CNS with a focus on mRNAs, rather than noncoding RNAs or proteins. At one level of analysis, this work has been highly successful, and we finally have techniques that can be used to track down small numbers of loci that control expression in the CNS. But at a higher level of analysis, we still do not understand the genetic architecture of gene expression in brain, the consequences of expression QTLs on protein levels or on cell function, or the combined impact of expression differences on behavior and disease risk. These important gaps are likely to be bridged over the next several decades using (1) much larger sample sizes, (2) more powerful RNA sequencing and proteomic methods, and (3) novel statistical and computational models to predict genome-to-phenome relations.
Keywords: Brain; Genetics; Microarray; RNA-seq; Transcriptome; eQTL.
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