Poorly-understood gene linked to mental health disorders

London, Oct 10 (IANS) New evidence has been found to prove the link between a previously misunderstood gene and major neurocognitive disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and autism, researchers said.

Schizophrenia is among the top 10 causes of human disability worldwide.

Although the chances of inheriting the condition are estimated at between 60-80 per cent, the genes responsible for causing the condition remain highly controversial, the study said.

“Schizophrenia and other mental health disorders are multi-faceted and it is extremely complicated to identify which genes, in combination with other environmental factors, contribute to people developing the condition,” said lead author Bing Lang, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Aberdeen in Britain.

Previous studies identified that a mutation of the gene ULK4 was more frequent in patients with schizophrenia as well as in some people with bipolar disorder, depression and autism.

In the new study, the team used cutting-edge techniques to “turn off” ULK4 in selected subsets of stem cells in the mouse brain.

They found that the offspring of these stem cells turned up in the wrong places, became “lost” and “communicated less” with neighbouring nerve cells.

These problems were rectified fully when the ULK4 gene was “turned back on”, the researchers noted.

The research found that ULK4 plays an essential role in normal brain development and when defective, the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders such as schizophrenia is increased.

“The findings revealed that the ULK4 gene plays a role in normal brain development, and that a mutation in the gene contributes to the risk of several neurodevelopmental disorders,” Lang added.

Identifying which genes are responsible for these diseases opens the way for the development of therapies to treat the symptoms of these conditions, the researchers concluded in the paper published in the journal Scientific Reports.



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