To further complicate matters, some of these genes contribute to more than one disorder. One such gene, known as Shank3, has been linked to both autism and schizophrenia.
MIT neuroscientists have now shed some light on how a single gene can play a role in more than one disease. In a study appearing in the Dec. 10 online edition of Neuron, they revealed that two different mutations of the Shank3 gene produce some distinct molecular and behavioral effects in mice.
“This study gives a glimpse into the mechanism by which different mutations within the same gene can cause distinct defects in the brain, and may help to explain how they may contribute to different disorders,” says Guoping Feng, the James W. and Patricia Poitras Professor of Neuroscience at MIT, a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, a member of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute, and the senior author of the study.
The findings also suggest that identifying the brain circuits affected by mutated genes linked to psychiatric disease could help scientists develop more personalized treatments for patients in the future, Feng says.
The paper’s lead authors are McGovern Institute research scientist Yang Zhou, graduate students Tobias Kaiser and Xiangyu Zhang, and research affiliate Patricia Monteiro.