Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) compared slices of brain from a consortium of individuals. By comparing ribonucleic acid (RNA) and gene activity in brain cells, they discovered molecular similarities between some of the major known psychiatric disorders. This study paves the way for further research and new methods of treating mental illnesses.
A Deeper Look Inside
UCLA neuroscientists Dan Geschwind and Mike Gandal wanted to compare the role RNA and gene activity from the cerebral cortex play in mental illness.
The outer layer of the brain, the cerebral cortex, is known for controlling attention, awareness, memory, and other high cognitive functions. RNA plays a role in gene activity, including gene expression and coding. It also contains information that directs how specific proteins are synthesized.
Building upon the work of the global Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, Gershwin’s and Gandal’s team took 293 control samples from people without any known mental illness, and 197 samples from people with inflammatory bowel disease.
They also took 700 samples from individuals with major psychiatric disorders, including alcoholism, autism, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. The researchers compared gene expression patterns between the samples to look for biological similarities in their gene activity.
The new study showed molecular similarities in the major psychiatric disorders. For instance, autism, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia presented a reduction in the expression of neuronal firing genes.
However, schizophrenia and autism shared a possible overexpression of other genes and high levels of gene activity. They did not return the same type of results as the other samples.
Gandal’s and Gershwin’s results show substantial work is still to be done in understanding what role variations in gene activity play in the manifestation of specific illnesses. However, finding similarities at a molecular level provides new insights into why certain treatments do not work. It may also help develop new ones.
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