Team seeks to create genetic map of worm’s nervous system

How do you build a brain? What “rules” govern where neurons end up, how they connect to each other, and which functions they perform?

“Most of the information that you need to create this extraordinarily complex network of connected cells — the brain — is genetically encoded. The overall architecture is a readout of a genetic program,” said David Miller, PhD, professor of Cell and Developmental Biology. “If you really want to understand how to make a brain, you need to know the genetic program.”

Miller and his team at Vanderbilt are working with investigators at Yale University and Columbia University to define the genetic program — the gene expression — for the entire nervous system of the nematode worm C. elegans.

They believe that a complete map of gene expression for the worm will help address broad questions in neuroscience about how gene expression programs establish diverse sets of neurons — and how genetic differences contribute to neuronal function in healthy and disease conditions.