In the first phase, the human brain will be broken down into about 2,000 smaller structures per hemisphere. Fresh-frozen samples from up to 10 brains, selected from tissue banks around the United States, will be analyzed to produce an inventory of genes specific to each structure. Jones said the process would narrow down the focus from a total of 20,000 genes to between 50 and 500 genes per structure.
Then, researchers will build up a fine-resolution database pinpointing which high-value genes are turned on, right down to the cellular level.
The Allen Brain Atlas (no, that's not Alien Brain Atlas) currently maps gene expression in the mouse brain. I wrote about the project here last year. It's very cool -- easy to probe for genes you are interested in. But because the vast majority of genes are expressed somewhere in the brain, it is hard to get any kind of picture of whether the gene expression may be significant.
The proposal for the next version looks like it will address that problem, by looking for specific patterns of gene expression underlying different brain areas. In addition, they will add a developmental picture:
In addition to the human brain atlas, the institute plans to delve more deeply into mouse biology. A two-year, $15 million project will produce gene-expression maps for mouse brains at different stages of development, ranging from early formation to adulthood. This would help researchers see how gene expression changes over time.
It's all free for use by anybody.