Distinctness of mental disorders traced to differences in gene readouts

NIH researchers take “deep dive” into brain’s transcriptome

A new study suggests that differences in the expression of gene transcripts — readouts copied from DNA that help maintain and build our cells — may hold the key to understanding how mental disorders with shared genetic risk factors result in different patterns of onset, symptoms, course of illness, and treatment responses. Findings from the study, conducted by researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the National Institutes of Health, appear in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

“Major mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder, share common genetic roots, but each disorder presents differently in each individual,” said Francis J. McMahon, M.D., a senior author of the study and chief of the Human Genetics Branch, part of the Intramural Research Program NIMH. “We wanted to investigate why disorders present differently, despite this seeming genetic similarity.”

McMahon and colleagues suspected that the brain’s transcriptome may hold some clues. The human genome is made up of DNA that contains instructions for helping maintain and build our cells. These instructions must be read and then copied into so-called “transcripts” for them to be carried out. Importantly, many different transcripts can be copied from a single gene, yielding a variety of proteins and other outputs. The transcriptome is the full set of transcripts found within the body.

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This page was last updated on Friday, January 21, 2022