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Gene variant provides clues to mental illness

30 November 2009
Appeared in BioNews 536

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, have identified a gene that may be involved in mental illness and maintaining brain health. The scientists compared the genes of 2,000 psychiatric patients and 2,000 healthy people in Scotland. They discovered that the ABCA13 gene was faulty more frequently in patients with severe mental illness - such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression - than in the healthy control group.

Douglas Blackwood, professor of Psychiatric Genetics at the University of Edinburgh, who lead the research, said: 'This is an exciting step forward in our understanding of the underlying causes of some common mental illnesses. These risk genes could signpost new directions for treatments.' The findings, which were published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, may help to develop new drugs to treat mental health conditions.

Dr Ben Pickard, at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, said: ''This study is the first to identify multiple points of DNA damage within a single gene that are linked with psychiatric illness', adding that 'it strongly suggests that this gene may regulate an important part of brain function that fails in individuals diagnosed with these devastating disorders.'

The team believes that the ABCA13 gene may influence how fat molecules are used in the brain, and research will now focus on how that occurs. The research was conducted in an international collaboration with scientists in Aberdeen, Queensland and North Carolina.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Gene clue to mental health
Press Association |  24 November 2009
Scientists identify gene linked to mental illnesses
The Daily Telegraph |  25 November 2009
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