Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Mind the Gene
05 October 2014

Mind the Gene

Identifying the root causes of diseases can be very challenging when symptoms are linked to many factors. Some of the factors are real, and trigger illness, while others only occur at the same time as the illness but have little impact. Telling those factors apart often entails a painstaking process of elimination akin to detective work. Following a two-year investigation, biologists proved at last that the root cause of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe depression lies with a mutation in a gene known as DISC1. They showed that the mutation hindered the formation of synapses (red and green) that allow electrical signals to transit between the tiny gaps linking neurons [brain cells] (shown in blue). Differentiating causation and correlation in mental illnesses poses a particular challenge because genetic and environmental factors both play a role, while many genes are responsible for regulating wiring in the brain.

Written by Tristan Farrow

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