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Imprinted genes, brain and behaviour

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Biography

From 1989 to 1996 I worked in Cambridge with Trevor Robbins and Barry Everitt in Experimental Psychology. In 1996 I moved to the Babraham Institute where I formed a group focusing on the field of behavioural genetics. It was at Babraham that I became interested in epigenetic effects (mediated by DNA methylation and/or chemical tagging of histone proteins that bind DNA ) on behaviour, especially in terms of imprinted genes which are expressed in a parent-of-origin manner as a result of developmentally determined epigenetic marks that lead to silencing of either the maternal or paternal allele. In 2006 I moved to Cardiff to take up a joint position in the Schools of Medicine and Psychology where currently I head up the Behavioural Genetics Group within the MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics.

Abstract

At conception we receive a copy (allele) of each autosomal gene from mum and dad. This ‘diploid’ arrangement is one of the many benefits of sexual reproduction as it provides a spare in the event of abnormalities – hence, for the large majority of genes in the mammalian genome expression occurs from both alleles. Imprinted genes break the rules and are expressed in a ‘parent-of-origin’ manner, meaning that, for some imprinted genes only (or mainly) the maternal allele is expressed, for others only (or mainly) the paternal allele. Imprinted genes were discovered relatively recently but already it appears they play key roles in several aspects of mammalian physiology, including brain function and behaviour. In my talk I will discuss progress in our understanding of what imprinted genes might be doing in the brain, referring to our own work on occasion. I will also, if there is time, touch on the evolutionary controversies that the existence of imprinted genes seems to attract.

This talk is part of the Zangwill Club series.

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