Autism, schizophrenia share molecular traits

Mental Illnesses Share Genetic Similarities

Mental Illnesses Share Genetic Similarities

Specifically, some similar patterns of gene expression were found in people with autism, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, the researchers say.

Scientists discovered that these disorders share similarities at a molecular level: They all show an activation of genes in star-shaped brain cells called astrocytes, and suppression of genes which function at synapses, the junction between neurons. The study also identified important differences between the gene expressions of these disorders as well. "The major challenge now is to understand how these changes arose".

Geschwind and the study's lead author, Dr. Michael Gandal, hypothesized that taking a closer look at the RNA in human brain tissue would help provide a molecular profile of these psychiatric disorders.

They analysed the RNA in 700 tissue samples from the brains of patients who had autism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder or alcohol abuse disorder, comparing them to samples from brains without psychiatric disorders.

While there was significant overlap in gene expression patterns associated with conditions such as autism and schizophrenia, people with major depression had gene expression patterns not seen in other types of mental illness, the researchers said.

"With these new genomic molecular measurements, we're actually able to understand what is shared and what is distinct" about these disorders, Daniel Geschwind, lead investigators of the research, told Scientific American magazine.

Now that the researchers have some understanding of causes, the next step is to understand the underlying mechanisms "so as to develop the ability to change these outcomes", Geschwind said.

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