Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Gene variations can be barometer of behavior, choices

22.07.2009
Michael Frank, of the Brown Institute for Brain Science, has determined that variations of three different genes in the brain can predict whether individuals will make certain choices. His work, in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Arizona, will be published in the August 2009 edition of Nature Neuroscience.

Researchers at Brown University and the University of Arizona have determined that variations of three different genes in the brain (called single-nucleotide polymorphisms) may help predict a person’s tendency to make certain choices.

By testing DNA samples from saliva in conjunction with computerized cognitive tests, researchers found that the certain gene variations could be connected to certain choices — focusing on decisions that previously produced good outcomes, avoiding negative outcomes, or trying unfamiliar things even though an outcome is uncertain.

“In some cases, single genes can have surprisingly strong influences on particular aspects of behavior,” said Michael J. Frank, assistant professor of cognitive and linguistic science, psychology, and psychiatry and human behavior. Frank, lead author of the research, directs the Laboratory for Neural Computation and Cognition in the Brown Institute for Brain Science.

Frank worked with Brown graduate student Bradley Doll and collaborated with geneticists Francisco Moreno and Jen Oas-Terpstra of the University of Arizona. Research findings will be published in the August 2009 Nature Neuroscience and will be available online July 20. The paper builds on research Frank conducted while he was at the University of Arizona.

The study examined the effects of three genes that control aspects of dopamine function in the brain while participants performed a computerized decision-making task. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps keep the central nervous symptom functioning. Its levels fluctuate as the brain feels motivated or rewarded.

Varations in two of the genes — DARPP-32 and DRD2 — independently predicted the degree to which people responded to outcomes that were better or worse than expected, by reinforcing approach and avoidance type behaviors. These genes affect dopamine processes in the basal ganglia portion of the brain. Frank said this is important for “simple reinforcement of learning processes that you might not even be aware of.”

Frank and the other researchers also studied exploratory decision-making — the choices people make when they are in “uncharted territory.” They found that variations in a third gene — COMT — predicted the extent to which people explored decisions when they were uncertain whether the decisions might produce better outcomes.

COMT affects dopamine levels in the prefrontal cortex, known as an executive center of the brain. Frank said this level might be needed to “prevent the more basic motivational learning system from always taking control over behavior, so as to gather more information and prevent getting stuck in a rut.”

Frank said the findings could have some interesting implications. “We cannot say on the basis of one or two studies,” he said, “but if a student isn’t doing well in a particular learning environment, [a gene study could show that the student] may be well-suited to a particular teaching style.”

The data could help shape future treatments for conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, which involves dopamine loss. Treatment options now lead to unwanted side effects.

“Medications that increase dopamine stimulation can help treat debilitating aspects of the disease but in some patients the meds can induce pathological gambling and impulsivity,” he said.

Frank suggested that genetic factors involved in influencing motivational processes in the brain could someday help predict which patients would be negatively impacted by particular medications.

Seventy-three college students, with a median age of 19, took part in the study.

Scientists took saliva samples, from which they extracted DNA and analyzed the genes with subsequent computerized cognitive tests. Subjects watched a clock face, on which the arrow revolved around for five seconds, during which the subjects were to press a button once to try to win points. The subjects did not know that the statistics of their reward depended on their response time, and they had to learn to adjust their responses to increase the number of points they could win.

That data was then fed into a biologically based computer model that quantified the learning and exploration processes on a trial-by-trial basis. These variables were then compared against different genes.

A grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Mental Health funded the research.

Mark Hollmer | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.brown.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht How brains surrender to sleep
23.06.2017 | IMP - Forschungsinstitut für Molekulare Pathologie GmbH

nachricht A new technique isolates neuronal activity during memory consolidation
22.06.2017 | Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>