Retroviruses May Play an Important Role in the Basic Functions of the Human Brain

New research shows that retroviruses, which constitute about 5% of our DNA, help regulate which genes in the brain’s neurons are expressed, and when. When investigators analyzed neural stem cells, they discovered that these cells use a particular molecular mechanism to control the activation processes of retroviruses. The Cell Reports findings indicate that over the course of evolution the viruses took an increasingly firm hold on the control of humans’ cellular machinery. The reason the viruses are activated specifically in the brain is likely due to the fact that tumors cannot form in nerve cells, unlike in other tissues.

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New research shows that retroviruses, which constitute about 5% of our DNA, help regulate which genes in the brain’s neurons are expressed, and when. When investigators analyzed neural stem cells, they discovered that these cells use a particular molecular mechanism to control the activation processes of retroviruses. The Cell Reports findings indicate that over the course of evolution the viruses took an increasingly firm hold on the control of humans’ cellular machinery. The reason the viruses are activated specifically in the brain is likely due to the fact that tumors cannot form in nerve cells, unlike in other tissues.

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