Neuro-Epigenetics (NEPI) Lab
Kim, Tae-Kyung (Life Sciences)
An intense memory from childhood is apt to stay with us throughout our entire lives, and content we go over time and time again preparing for exams often remains with us long after our grades are tallied. This kind of ability to remember specific things is possible as nerve cells in our brain react to specific stimuli and the storage of associated memories is prolonged. It is increasingly evident such characteristics of the human brain are shaped at the molecular level, as is the DNA of nerve cells and wide-ranging factors that affect its expression.
The Neuro-Epigenetics (NEPI) Laboratory led by professor Kim, Tae-Kyung at the Department of Life Sciences, POSTECH, takes note of the functions of the human brain, perceived as the most untapped and most complex area in the study of the human body. To develop better understanding of the cognitive behaviors that people demonstrate through within brain at the molecular level, the NEPI Lab is leveraging epigenetics, one of the latest emerging genetic research areas, to probe into how the human brain functions.
Epigenetics allows researchers to identify how respective genes within nerve cells react to external stimulus and ultimately manifest themselves. A poignant memory from our childhood may serve as a stimulus to trigger certain gene expressions and control brain functions, resulting in specific nerve cells being able to recognize such stimulus more accurately and function accordingly. Analyzing this mechanism could enable scientists to understand the interplay between stimuli and human cognitive behaviors. Inversely, it could be possible to artificially manipulate human cognitive activities in the absence of any stimulus.
The most notable research outcome ever produced by the Lab was also to become the world’s first to identify enhancer RNAs or eRNA which regulate gene expression within DNA. While eRNA is known for its close correlation with gene expression, research on its function still has a long way to go. In addition to basic biochemical experimentation, the Lab is undertaking whole genome research to spot active sites by analyzing the whole genome within the brain. In tandem with this, researchers are also proceeding with behavioral experiments to look into behavioral changes in the cognitive functions of animals, leveraging virtually all available means of research in the field of modern biology.
One of its primary long-term project goals is to address diseases associated with brain functions. For instance, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), in many cases, is attributable to genetic mutations or DNA issues. Recently, the Lab has demonstrated that the hot spots of de novo mutations that lead to ASD are located in the DNA sites responsible for regulating gene expressions. This raises hope for the idea that repairing these sites may offer a solution to treating such brain disorders in the future.
Head of Lab
POSTECH Biotech Center 105