Our brains are incredibly complex structures, and scientists are still working to understand how their different areas are specified during development. The fate of neurons is thought to be determined at the stem cell stage, by the presence of proteins known as transcription factors. However, a recent discovery suggests that patterning the brain is a much more flexible, two-step process, involving not only stem cells but more mature neurons too. Experiments in mice showed that manipulating levels of the transcription factor Lhx2, after birth, could cause sensory neurons to switch roles, for example moving from the auditory to the visual pathways; in the mouse forebrain pictured, these modified cells are shown in orange and yellow. To what extent Lhx2 operates in the same way in humans is still unclear, but this new finding once again highlights the importance of early life in shaping the development of the brain.
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