Mapping human brain cells could lead to new treatments for brain disorders

Research faculty member Yang Eric Li, PhD, joined the Brain Tumor Center in July 2023 as an Assistant Professor of Genetics and Neurosurgery. His lab focuses on developing computational tools and using advanced (epi)genomic techniques to understand gene dysregulation in brain tumors and neuropsychiatric disorders.

As part of the NIH’s Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, Nature published 10 papers on Dec. 14 mapping the first mammalian brain. Dr. Li, a contributor to this project, co-first-authored one of the Nature papers titled: Single-cell analysis of chromatin accessibility in the adult mouse brain. 

In October of the same year, Dr. Li and his colleagues published a paper in Science entitled: A comparative atlas of single-cell chromatin accessibility in the human brain. Dr. Li and his colleagues built up computational pipelines to analyze 1.1 million cells across 42 distinct human brain regions and identified 107 distinct cell types. The study revealed strong links between specific brain cell types and neuropsychiatric disorders including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, and major depression.

Interpreting the function of subtle changes in DNA has been another challenging part of this research. Dr. Li developed cutting edge Artificial intelligence (AI) models to understand precisely how risk variants in our genome affect the function of individual brain cells.

Image courtesy of Science.

To continue this promising research, Dr. Li is currently recruiting students and postdocs at all levels. His lab is located in the new Neuroscience Research Building. To learn more about the research taking place and to apply to work in Dr. Li’s lab, click here. You can also follow Dr. Li on X (formerly Twitter).