Astrocytic Gene in the Brain Determines the Language Learning Ability of Humans

– Collaboration of KIST-Ewha Womans University identified that the astrocytic gene affect changes in brain size and cognitive function.

– The genetic variation on astrocyte water channel, aquaporin-4, determines language ability.

SEOUL, South Korea, July 12, 2017 /PRNewswire/– Many studies have shown a positive correlation between brain size and cognitive function in both animals and humans, however, most studies have focused on the neuronal function in brain size and function. Although water and astrocytes* are the most common substances and components of the brain, their role in language ability are not known well. In this study, the role of aquaporin4* in brain size changes and language ability is revealed for the first time.

Activity causes volumetric plasticity via aquaporin4
Activity causes volumetric plasticity via aquaporin4

*Astrocytes: Most abundant glial cells in the brain with having a star shape. They play various roles such as regulating the ion concentration and removing waste products.

*Aquaporin-4: A water channel of astrocytes in the brain, present in chromosome 18. It controls water movement in the cell membrane.

Researchers (Dr. Changjoon Lee’s group in KIST and Dr. Inkyoon Lyoo & Dr. Jieun Kim’s group in Ewha W. Univ.) found the suppression of activity-dependent astrocyte volume regulation, enriched environment-induced hippocampal volume change, and hippocampal spatial memory by inhibition of aquaporin-4 gene expression in mice. In humans, it was confirmed that the change in language-associated brain size and language ability depends on the genetic variation on aquaporin4 SNP* (rs162008), located in the 5’UTR*. In people with C base in rs162008 leading to increase of aquaporin4 expression, the semantic verbal fluency and the effect of increasing the brain size by GRE studying was higher than that in people with T base.

*SNP(Single Nucleotide Polymorphism): A common mutation occurs in one of several DNA bases in a single site on the chromosome.

*UTR(Untranslated Region): The region of mRNA, not translated into protein, refers to either of two sections, called the 5′ or 3′ UTR depending on the location.

Researchers identified a direct correlation between brain size and function. Also, they determined an essential role of astrocytes in cognitive function including language ability for the first time in the world. By controlling the aquaporin-4 gene expression, it is not only extended to other research topics such as control of brain function, but also predicts cognitive function by examining the aquaporin-4 gene mutation. It is expected that it will provide guidelines for learning by level or ability, and utilize gifted education programs and aptitude tests.

The results of the study were published in the online edition of “Molecular Psychiatry,” (IF 13.204, Top 2.42% in JCR) on Tuesday, June 27.

KIST (Korea Institute of Science and Technology)
Dr. C Justin Lee
Tel.  +82-2-958-6940

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