Researchers search for earliest roots of psychiatric disorders

April 10, 2014, Yale University

Newborns whose mothers were exposed during pregnancy to any one of a variety of environmental stressors—such as trauma, illness, and alcohol or drug abuse—become susceptible to various psychiatric disorders that frequently arise later in life. However, it has been unclear how these stressors affect the cells of the developing brain prenatally and give rise to conditions such as schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and some forms of autism and bipolar disorders.

Now, Yale University researchers have identified a single molecular mechanism in the developing brain that sheds light on how may go awry when exposed to a variety of different environmental insults. The findings, to be published in the May 7 issue of the journal Neuron, suggest that different types of stressors prenatally activate a single molecular trigger in that may make exposed individuals susceptible to late-onset neuropsychiatric disorders.

The researchers found that mouse embryos exposed to alcohol, methyl-mercury, or maternal seizures all activate in the developing brain cells a single gene—HSF1 or heat shock factor—which protects and enables some of the brain cells to survive prenatal insult. Mice lacking the HSF1 gene showed structural brain abnormalities and were prone to seizures after birth, even after exposure to very low levels of the toxins.

In addition, researchers created —which are capable of becoming many different tissue types, including neurons—from biopsies of individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia. Genes from these "schizophrenic" stem cells responded more dramatically when exposed to environmental insults than stem cells obtained from non-schizophrenic individuals. The findings provide support to the thesis that stress induces vulnerable cells to malfunction.

"It appears that different types of can trigger the same condition if they occur at the same period of prenatal development," said Yale's Pasko Rakic, senior author of the study. "Conversely, the same environmental stressor may cause different pathologies, if it occurs at different times during pregnancy."

Since HSF1 activation can potentially serve as a permanent marker of the stressed/damaged cell, it opens the possibility of identifying these cells in adults in order to explore the pathogenesis of postnatal disorders and how to protect vulnerable cells.

Explore further: Combination of stresses may produce brain disorders, research shows

Related Stories

Combination of stresses may produce brain disorders, research shows

March 1, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—A new study in a mouse model has shown that neuropsychiatric disorders in adults were more likely to develop if the mice had suffered immune challenges before birth and stresses after birth. The study also ...

Lipid levels during prenatal brain development impact autism

April 8, 2014
In a groundbreaking York University study, researchers have found that abnormal levels of lipid molecules in the brain can affect the interaction between two key neural pathways in early prenatal brain development, which ...

Turning human stem cells into brain cells sheds light on neural development

May 2, 2013
Medical researchers have manipulated human stem cells into producing types of brain cells known to play important roles in neurodevelopmental disorders such as epilepsy, schizophrenia and autism. The new model cell system ...

Cannabis during pregnancy endangers fetal brain development

January 27, 2014
An increasing number of children suffer from the consequences of maternal drug exposure during pregnancy, and Cannabis is one of the most frequently used substances. This motivated the study, published in the EMBO Journal, ...

New risk factor found for schizophrenia

February 6, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Scientists have discovered a link between a largely unstudied gene and schizophrenia.

Jumping DNA in the brain may be a cause of schizophrenia

January 2, 2014
Stretches of DNA called retrotransposons, often dubbed "junk DNA", might play an important role in schizophrenia. In a study published today in the journal Neuron, a Japanese team revealed that LINE-1 retrotransposons are ...

Recommended for you

People with prosthetic arms less affected by common illusion

January 22, 2018
People with prosthetic arms or hands do not experience the "size-weight illusion" as strongly as other people, new research shows.

Study of learning and memory problems in OCD helps young people unlock potential at school

January 22, 2018
Adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have widespread learning and memory problems, according to research published today. The findings have already been used to assist adolescents with OCD obtain the help ...

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

Babies' babbling betters brains, language

January 18, 2018
Babies are adept at getting what they need - including an education. New research shows that babies organize mothers' verbal responses, which promotes more effective language instruction, and infant babbling is the key.

College branding makes beer more salient to underage students

January 18, 2018
In recent years, major beer companies have tried to capitalize on the salience of students' university affiliations, unveiling marketing campaigns and products—such as "fan cans," store displays, and billboard ads—that ...

Inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

January 18, 2018
When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter – more than we think.

0 comments

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.