Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Stem cells reveal how illness-linked genetic variation affects neurons


A genetic variation linked to schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe depression wreaks havoc on connections among neurons in the developing brain, a team of researchers reports.

The study, led by Guo-li Ming, M.D., Ph.D., and Hongjun Song, Ph.D., of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and described online Aug. 17 in the journal Nature, used stem cells generated from people with and without mental illness to observe the effects of a rare and pernicious genetic variation on young brain cells. The results add to evidence that several major mental illnesses have common roots in faulty "wiring" during early brain development.

In this imag, cell nuclei are shown in blue and synapses in red and green.

Credit: Zhexing Wen/Johns Hopkins Medicine

"This was the next best thing to going back in time to see what happened while a person was in the womb to later cause mental illness," says Ming. "We found the most convincing evidence yet that the answer lies in the synapses that connect brain cells to one another."

Previous evidence for the relationship came from autopsies and from studies suggesting that some genetic variants that affect synapses also increase the chance of mental illness. But those studies could not show a direct cause-and-effect relationship, Ming says.

... more about:
»DISC1 »Medicine »activity »genes »illness »neurons »skin »synapses

One difficulty in studying the genetics of common mental illnesses is that they are generally caused by environmental factors in combination with multiple gene variants, any one of which usually could not by itself cause disease. A rare exception is the gene known as disrupted in schizophrenia 1 (DISC1), in which some mutations have a strong effect. Two families have been found in which many members with the DISC1 mutations have mental illness.

To find out how a DISC1 variation with a few deleted DNA "letters" affects the developing brain, the research team collected skin cells from a mother and daughter in one of these families who have neither the variation nor mental illness, as well as the father, who has the variation and severe depression, and another daughter, who carries the variation and has schizophrenia. For comparison, they also collected samples from an unrelated healthy person. Postdoctoral fellow Zhexing Wen, Ph.D., coaxed the skin cells to form five lines of stem cells and to mature into very pure populations of synapse-forming neurons.

After growing the neurons in a dish for six weeks, collaborators at Pennsylvania State University measured their electrical activity and found that neurons with the DISC1 variation had about half the number of synapses as those without the variation. To make sure that the differences were really due to the DISC1 variation and not to other genetic differences, graduate student Ha Nam Nguyen spent two years making targeted genetic changes to three of the stem cell lines.

In one of the cell lines with the variation, he swapped out the DISC1 gene for a healthy version. He also inserted the disease-causing variation into one healthy cell line from a family member, as well as the cell line from the unrelated control. Sure enough, the researchers report, the cells without the variation now grew the normal amount of synapses, while those with the inserted mutation had half as many.

"We had our definitive answer to whether this DISC1 variation is responsible for the reduced synapse growth," Ming says.

To find out how DISC1 acts on synapses, the researchers also compared the activity levels of genes in the healthy neurons to those with the variation. To their surprise, the activities of more than 100 genes were different. "This is the first indication that DISC1 regulates the activity of a large number of genes, many of which are related to synapses," Ming says.

The research team is now looking more closely at other genes that are linked to mental disorders. By better understanding the roots of mental illness, they hope to eventually develop better treatments for it, Ming says.


Other authors on the paper are Ziyuan Guo and Gong Chen of The Pennsylvania State University; Matthew A. Lalli, Elmer Guzman and Kenneth S. Kosik of the University of California, Santa Barbara; Xinyuan Wang, Yijing Su, Nam-Shik Kim, Ki-Jun Yoon, Jaehoon Shin, Ce Zhang, Georgia Makri, David Nauen, Huimei Yu, Cheng-Hsuan Chiang, Jizhong Zou, Kimberly M. Christian, Linzhao Cheng, Christopher A. Ross, Nadine Yoritomo and Russell L. Magolis of The Johns Hopkins University; and Kozo Kaibuchi of Nagoya University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan.

Shawna Williams | Eurek Alert!
Further information:

Further reports about: DISC1 Medicine activity genes illness neurons skin synapses

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Atom-Sized Craters Make a Catalyst Much More Active
30.11.2015 | SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

nachricht Hydra Can Modify Its Genetic Program
30.11.2015 | Université de Genève (University of Geneva)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: How do Landslides control the weathering of rocks?

Chemical weathering in mountains depends on the process of erosion.

Chemical weathering of rocks over geological time scales is an important control on the stability of the climate. This weathering is, in turn, highly dependent...

Im Focus: How Cells in the Developing Ear ‘Practice’ Hearing

Before the fluid of the middle ear drains and sound waves penetrate for the first time, the inner ear cells of newborn rodents practice for their big debut. Researchers at Johns Hopkins report they have figured out the molecular chain of events that enables the cells to make “sounds” on their own, essentially “practicing” their ability to process sounds in the world around them.

The researchers, who describe their experiments in the Dec. 3 edition of the journal Cell, show how hair cells in the inner ear can be activated in the absence...

Im Focus: Climate study finds evidence of global shift in the 1980s

Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.

Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from...

Im Focus: Innovative Photovoltaics – from the Lab to the Façade

Fraunhofer ISE Demonstrates New Cell and Module Technologies on its Outer Building Façade

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...

Im Focus: Lactate for Brain Energy

Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.

In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Urbanisation and migration from rural areas challenging agriculture in Eastern Europe

30.11.2015 | Event News

Fraunhofer’s Urban Futures Conference: 2 days in the city of the future

25.11.2015 | Event News

Gluten oder nicht Gluten? Überempfindlichkeit auf Weizen kann unterschiedliche Ursachen haben

17.11.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Making backup plans can be a self-fulfilling prophecy

01.12.2015 | Social Sciences

How do Landslides control the weathering of rocks?

01.12.2015 | Earth Sciences

Teamplay IT solution enables more efficient use of protocols

30.11.2015 | Trade Fair News

More VideoLinks >>>