According to a recent study published in Nature Communications by researchers of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, a gene known as Snf2h is highly important in the development of the cerebellum, or “little brain,” which is an important for complicated physical movement, balance and motor skills. The cerebellum, located at the back of the brain, is very important, for example, for the dexterity and coordination required by artists and athletes, as well as ordinary activities in which we engage in everyday life, suech as eating, driving, or even simply walking. When the gene is removed, it produces a small cerebellum. A smaller cerebellum, they found, was correlated with compromised balance and difficulty in engaging in less refined movements. The gene is found in the neural stem cells of the brain and serve as a master regulator.
Not only was the cerebellum of the mice from whom the gene was removed smaller than those in ordinary, healthy mice, but it was a third of the size. These mice exhibited difficulties similar to those who possess cerebellar ataxia, such as difficulty balancing, coordinating movements and walking. As a master gene, it is responsible, the researchers say for determining which genes are turned on. This happens as cerebellar stem cells divide as they begin to become specialized neurons. The lack of the Snf2h meant that genes that should have been turned on were packed away and those that were packed away ought to have been turned on, researchers say.
External stimuli is extremely important for the development of the cerebellum. Indeed, it develops in response to it. An enormous part of the brain, it contains half of the brain’s neurons and makes up 10 percent of the brain’s volume. The development of the cerebellum is a fascinating example of the complex interaction between genes and the environment, as certain practices either turn certain genes on or off. This process strengthens the brain’s circuits, which assists in the task being undertaken. The Snf2h gene, as noted before, is a master gene which adapts to certain external cues which help it to determine which genes to turn on or off. It is from this process that it gets the name ‘epigenetic regulators.’ According to Dr. Picketts, one of the researchers: “These epigenetic regulators are known to affect memory, behaviour and learning…Without Snf2h, not enough cerebellar neurons are produced, and the ones that are produced do not respond and adapt as well to external signals. They also show a progressively disorganized gene expression profile that results in cerebellar ataxia and the premature death of the animal.”
In addition to controlling balance, the cerebellum is important in regulating our ability to control our posture. Its outputs are linked to parts of the motor system, but these motor activities are not initiated in the cerebellum itself, but rather, the cerebellum helps to modify motor commands. It also helps to coordinate voluntary body movements.
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. (2014, June 20). Gene critical for development of brain motor center found. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140620163303.htm