Normal role for schizophrenia risk gene identified

Sep 07, 2007

How the gene that has been pegged as a major risk factor for schizophrenia and other mood disorders that affect millions of Americans contributes to these diseases remains unclear. However, the results of a new study by Hopkins researchers and their colleagues, appearing in Cell this week, provide a big clue by showing what this gene does in normal adult brains.

It turns out that this gene, called disc1, makes a protein that serves as a sort of musical conductor for newly made nerve cells in the adult brain, guiding them to their proper locations at the appropriate tempo so they can seamlessly integrate into our complex and intertwined nervous system. If the DISC1 protein doesn’t operate properly, the new nerves go hyper.

“DISC1 plays a broader role in the development of adult nerves than we anticipated,” says Hongjun Song, Ph.D., an associate professor at Hopkins’ Institute for Cell Engineering. “Some previous studies hinted that DISC1 is important for nerve migration and extension, but our study in mice suggests it is critical for more than that and may highlight why DISC1 is associated with multiple psychiatric disorders.”

“Almost every part of the nerve integration process speeds up,” adds fellow author Guo-li Ming, M.D., Ph.D., also an associate professor at ICE. “The new nerves migrate and branch out faster than normal, form connections with neighbors more rapidly, and are even more sensitive to electrical stimulation.”

While it may not be obvious why high-speed integration would be detrimental, Song notes that because of the complexity of the brain, timing is critical to ensure that new nerves are prepared to plug into the neural network.

Ming, Song and their collaborators at the National Institutes of Health and UC Davis tracked the abnormal movements of the hyperactive nerve cells by injecting a specially designed virus into a part of a mouse brain known as the hippocampus -a region important for learning and memory and therefore quite relevant to psychiatric disorders. The virus would only infect newly born cells and would both knock down the expression of the disc1 gene and make the nerves glow under a microscope.

Combined with other recent Hopkins research that successfully engineered mouse models that have abnormal DISC1 and can effectively reproduce schizophrenia symptoms such as anxiety, hyperactivity, apathy and altered senses, these current findings teasing out the normal role of this protein may help unravel the causes for this complex disease

Song and Ming add that their studies in the hippocampus - one of the few places where new nerves are made in the adult brain - might answer why symptoms typically first appear in adults despite the genetic basis of many psychiatric illnesses. They plan on continuing their mouse work to try and find those answers.

Source: Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

Explore further: First genetic link discovered to difficult-to-diagnose breast cancer sub-type

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Why symptoms of schizophrenia emerge in young adulthood

Feb 26, 2010

In reports of two new studies, researchers led by Johns Hopkins say they have identified the mechanisms rooted in two anatomical brain abnormalities that may explain the onset of schizophrenia and the reason symptoms don't ...

Hopkins team develops first mouse model of schizophrenia

Jul 30, 2007

Johns Hopkins researchers have genetically engineered the first mouse that models both the anatomical and behavioral defects of schizophrenia, a complex and debilitating brain disorder that affects over 2 million Americans.

Recommended for you

Refining the language for chromosomes

7 hours ago

When talking about genetic abnormalities at the DNA level that occur when chromosomes swap, delete or add parts, there is an evolving communication gap both in the science and medical worlds, leading to inconsistencies in ...

Down's chromosome cause genome-wide disruption

Apr 16, 2014

The extra copy of Chromosome 21 that causes Down's syndrome throws a spanner into the workings of all the other chromosomes as well, said a study published Wednesday that surprised its authors.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Turning off depression in the brain

Scientists have traced vulnerability to depression-like behaviors in mice to out-of-balance electrical activity inside neurons of the brain's reward circuit and experimentally reversed it – but there's ...

Researchers discover target for treating dengue fever

Two recent papers by a University of Colorado School of Medicine researcher and colleagues may help scientists develop treatments or vaccines for Dengue fever, West Nile virus, Yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and other ...

Our brains are hardwired for language

A groundbreaking study published in PLOS ONE by Prof. Iris Berent of Northeastern University and researchers at Harvard Medical School shows the brains of individual speakers are sensitive to language univer ...

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...