Brain Development Switch Could Affect Schizophrenia, Other Conditions

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An international team of scientists lead by researchers from Duke University and Johns Hopkins University have discovered a key “switch” in the brain that allows neurons to stop dividing so that these cells can migrate toward their final destinations in the brain.

The finding may be relevant to making early identification of people who go on to develop schizophrenia and other brain disorders.

“This work sheds light on what has been a big black box in neuroscience,” said Nicholas Katsanis, Ph.D., co-senior author of the work and Jean and George Brumley Jr., MD, Professor of Developmental Biology, Professor of Pediatrics and Cell Biology. “It helps answer the question of what happens when neurons stop dividing and start moving along to populate the brain.”

The study was published by Nature journal on April 6 in its advance online publication.
Katsanis predicts that, for perhaps 10 percent of psychiatric illness, the illness is primarily driven by defects in this switch system. “So we now have ways to interpret variation in humans, in a context that is relevant to their particular cases, to their physiology — that is where medicine will move next,” Katsanis said.

Katsanis, who directs the Duke Center for Human Disease Modeling, and Akira Sawa, M.D., Ph.D., a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, were introduced to each other by a clinical colleague who thought that Bardet-Biedl syndrome (BBS) proteins that are involved in transport duties within cells might have a role in schizophrenia. Katsanis is an expert in using BBS genetic mutations and proteins to learn more about other diseases. BBS is a complex genetic disease with autism-like symptoms, cognitive defects and depression. Sawa is an expert on DISC1, the protein named Disrupted in Schizophrenia 1, known to be a major susceptibility factor for schizophrenia and related disorders.

Together, they discovered that these proteins are involved in a key switch for neurons that is necessary for brain development. When DISC1 gains a phosphate group at a specific site, it recruits BBS1. When BBS1 is missing in this system, the team could observe defective neuron migration, while a model with no DISC1 at all leads to defects in both cell proliferation and migration……

Duke University Medical Center (2011, April 7). Brain development switch could affect schizophrenia, other conditions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 14, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2011/04/110406131803.htm

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