Found in the developing brain: Mental health risk genes and gender differences

October 26, 2011, Yale University

Most genes associated with psychiatric illnesses are expressed before birth in the developing human brain, a massive study headed by Yale University researchers discovered. In addition, hundreds of genetic differences were found between males and females as their brains take shape in the womb, the study in the Oct. 27 issue of the journal Nature shows.

The creation of a hundred billion and the incalculable number of connections between them is such a complex task that 86 percent of 17,000 studied are recruited in the effort. The study tracked not only what genes are involved in development, but where and when they are expressed, or activated.

"We knew many of the genes involved in the development of the brain, but now we know where and when they are functioning in the ," said Nenad Sestan, associate professor of neurobiology, researcher for the Kavli Institute for Neuroscience and senior author of the study. "The complexity of the system shows why the human brain may be so susceptible to psychiatric disorders."

The study identified genes expressed in the human brain, and when and where in the brain they were expressed in 1340 tissue samples taken from 57 subjects aged from 40 days after conception to 82 years. The analysis of 1.9 billion data points gives an unprecedented map of in the brain at different stages of development. In dramatic fashion, the findings show just how much of the human brain is shaped prior to birth.

For instance, the team analyzed genes and variants previously linked with autism and schizophrenia, the symptoms of which are evident in the first few years of life or during , respectively. The new analysis shows molecular evidence of expression of these suspect genes prior to birth.

"We found a distinct pattern of gene expression and variations prenatally in areas of the brain involving higher cognitive function," Sestan said. "It is clear that these disease-associated genes are developmentally regulated."

The team also looked for differences in brains of . They expected to find clear differences in Y chromosome genes that are possessed only by males. However, they also demonstrated that men and women showed distinct differences in many genes that are shared by both sexes – both in whether the gene was expressed and the level of the gene's activity. Most of the differences were noted prenatally.

Explore further: Our brains are made of the same stuff, despite DNA differences

Related Stories

Our brains are made of the same stuff, despite DNA differences

October 26, 2011
Despite vast differences in the genetic code across individuals and ethnicities, the human brain shows a "consistent molecular architecture," say researchers supported by the National Institutes of Health. The finding is ...

Autism blurs distinctions between brain regions

June 3, 2011
Autism blurs the molecular differences that normally distinguish different brain regions, a new study suggests. Among more than 500 genes that are normally expressed at significantly different levels in the front versus the ...

Young human-specific genes correlated with human brain evolution

October 18, 2011
Young genes that appeared since the primate branch split from other mammal species are expressed in unique structures of the developing human brain, a new analysis finds.

Recommended for you

Researchers identify gene responsible for mesenchymal stem cells' stem-ness'

January 22, 2018
Many doctors, researchers and patients are eager to take advantage of the promise of stem cell therapies to heal damaged tissues and replace dysfunctional cells. Hundreds of ongoing clinical trials are currently delivering ...

Genes contribute to biological motion perception and its covariation with autistic traits

January 22, 2018
Humans can readily perceive and recognize the movements of a living creature, based solely on a few point-lights tracking the motion of the major joints. Such exquisite sensitivity to biological motion (BM) signals is essential ...

Peers' genes may help friends stay in school, new study finds

January 18, 2018
While there's scientific evidence to suggest that your genes have something to do with how far you'll go in school, new research by a team from Stanford and elsewhere says the DNA of your classmates also plays a role.

Two new breast cancer genes emerge from Lynch syndrome gene study

January 18, 2018
Researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian have identified two new breast cancer genes. Having one of the genes—MSH6 and PMS2—approximately doubles a woman's risk of developing breast ...

A centuries-old math equation used to solve a modern-day genetics challenge

January 18, 2018
Researchers developed a new mathematical tool to validate and improve methods used by medical professionals to interpret results from clinical genetic tests. The work was published this month in Genetics in Medicine.

Can mice really mirror humans when it comes to cancer?

January 18, 2018
A new Michigan State University study is helping to answer a pressing question among scientists of just how close mice are to people when it comes to researching cancer.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ArtflDgr
not rated yet Oct 27, 2011
but we are the same and have the same outcomes and all that is wrong is the fault of who programmed us...

get the zeitgeist right guys...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.