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The Ontario Brain Epigenomics Platform

Principal Investigator:
  • Art Petronis, University of Toronto/CAMH
Team Members:
  • Cathy Barr, Toronto Western Hospital
  • Andrew Lim, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre
  • Freda Miller, University of Toronto
  • Lennard Niles, McMaster University
  • Nathalie Berube, University of Western Ontario
  • Michael Poulter, Robarts Research Institute
  • Ian Weaver, Dalhousie University
  • Stephen Matthews, University of Toronto
  • Vincenzo De Luca, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
  • Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Project Overview

One of the frontiers in neuroscience is to understand the molecular dynamics of the brain functions. In addition to genetic and environmental modulation, the brain is also controlled by epigenetic mechanisms. These are chemical modifications of our genetic template that regulate gene activity in response to internal or external cues. The brain has unique epigenetic characteristics that are imperative to learning and memory and have been implicated in autism, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Consequently, research into brain epigenetics is crucial to understand the dynamics of normal brain function and mental illness. There are 4,000+ epigenetics-related publications by Canadian scientists, which demonstrate the country’s interest in this field. This has created a real need for specialized and coordinated infrastructure that addresses research bottle necks, improves collaborations, and reduces costs. The Ontario Brain Epigenomics Platform addresses these needs in three ways. First, different cell types have considerable differences in their epigenetic profiles which makes it difficult to study complex organs like the brain where different regions are made up of different cell type populations. Dr. Petronis and his team provide precise isolation of small homogenous brain regions using laser capture micro-dissection that mitigate this problem. Second, they provide access to the next generation of DNA sequencing technology on the Illumina HiSeq 2500 that generates the fast, unbiased, accurate, cost-effective and high-throughput data necessary to make breakthrough discoveries. Third, they address the fact that it now costs more to analyze the data than to perform many of the “wet” experiments. The team provides uniformly-processed epigenomic brain reference datasets and make public all associated software products involved in generating and analyzing them. Consequently, other groups will be able to process their own results efficiently and in a similar manner which brings standardization and enhances collaborations within the community.