✍️ Author: Dr Eleni Christoforidou
🕒 Approximate reading time: 4 minutes
Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is an indispensable technique in neuroscience, allowing researchers to amplify and analyse gene expression in neural tissues or cultured cells. Understanding the application of PCR in neuroscience opens doors to studying genetic influences on the nervous system and how they contribute to neurological diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
PCR is a technique used to amplify specific DNA sequences. It involves three primary steps:
Denaturation: The DNA sample is heated to separate the two DNA strands.
Annealing: The temperature is lowered to allow primers, short DNA sequences, to bind to their complementary sequences on the DNA strands.
Extension: A heat-tolerant DNA polymerase enzyme extends the primers, synthesising new strands of DNA.
These steps are repeated for multiple cycles, each one doubling the amount of DNA, leading to exponential amplification of the target sequence.
Studying Gene Expression: With reverse transcription PCR (RT-PCR), scientists can quantify mRNA levels, allowing for the study of gene expression in different neuronal types or under different conditions, such as disease states or drug treatments.
Genotyping Animals: PCR can be used to identify transgenic animals or those carrying specific gene mutations, both of which are commonly used in neuroscience research.
Identifying Pathogen Infection: PCR can detect the presence of pathogen DNA or RNA in brain tissue, helping identify viral or bacterial infections that could affect neurological function.
In studying neurodegenerative diseases like ALS, PCR offers several advantages:
Analysing Disease-Associated Genes: PCR allows for the study of mutations in disease-associated genes, such as the SOD1 gene in ALS.
Studying Gene Expression Changes: Using RT-PCR, researchers can explore how disease progression affects the expression of genes involved in neuroinflammation, neuronal survival, or other relevant processes.
Evaluating Therapeutic Efficacy: Following gene therapy or other genetic interventions, PCR can help assess whether the treatment has effectively altered gene expression.
PCR is a powerful tool in neuroscience, enabling the amplification and analysis of specific genes. It allows researchers to delve into the genetic underpinnings of neuronal function and dysfunction, which is essential for understanding neurological diseases and developing effective treatments. Its versatility and applicability make PCR a cornerstone technique in neuroscience research.