Archive for the ‘neurogenetics’ Category


“There is this enormous mystery waiting to be unlocked, and The BRAIN Initiative will change that by giving scientists the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain in action and better understand how we think and how we learn and how we remember.”

— Barack Obama



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A large genome-wide study has identified four single-nucleotide polymorphisms shared between five major psychiatric disorders.

By Bob Grant | March 4, 2013


People suffering from autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and schizophrenia have at least four genomic elements in common, according to research published last Wednesday (February 27) in The Lancet. Researchers combing the DNA of more than 60,000 people around the world determined that the five disorders were linked by single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that occur in at least four different spots on the genome: two in regions of unknown function and two in key calcium channel subunit genes.

“What we identified here is probably just the tip of an iceberg,” Jordan Smoller of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital and lead author of the paper told The New York Times. “As these studies grow we expect to find additional genes that might overlap.”


Though the four SNPs confer only a small risk of developing the psychiatric disorders, the study is the first to identify genetic elements that link such a wide array of pathologies. Nevertheless, the findings—especially the shared SNPs in genetic components of calcium channels—give hope for an eventual therapy to treat all the disorders. “The calcium channel findings suggest that perhaps—and this is a big if—treatments to affect calcium channel functioning might have effects across a range of disorders,” Smoller told the NYT.


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A new finding by Harvard stem cell biologists turns one of the basics of neurobiology on its head — demonstrating that it is possible to turn one type of already differentiated neuron into another within the brain.

More info: http://bit.ly/Wd6hHh

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Introducing a light-sensitive protein in transgenic nerve cells … transplanting nerve cells into the brains of laboratory animals … inserting an optic fibre in the brain and using it to light up the nerve cells and stimulate them into releasing more dopamine to combat Parkinson’s disease. These things may sound like science fiction, but they are soon to become a reality in a research laboratory at Lund University in Sweden.

For more information: http://bit.ly/SthSQk

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by Robert T. Gonzalez

The power of suggestion can be an incredible thing, and in few way is this more apparent than with the placebo effect. Now, newly published research suggests how susceptible you are to sham treatments and dummy medicine (a sugar pill, for instance) could actually be rooted in your genetics.

LiveScience’s Tia Ghose explains:

Differences in versions of the catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene, which determines levels of dopamine in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, are linked to differences in reward-seeking and pain perception. People with the high-dopamine version, or allele, of the COMT gene feel pain more acutely and seek rewards more strongly than those who have the low-dopamine copy.

[Researchers led by Kathryn Hall of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center] analyzed DNA from 104 patients with irritable bowel syndrome who were randomized to one of three groups: One was told they were on the waiting list for treatment, another received a placebo in the form of seemingly real, curt acupuncture, and the third group received fake acupuncture from a caring, warm practitioner who looked patients in the eye, asked about their progress, and even touched them lightly.

Patients with the high-dopamine version of the gene felt slightly better after seeing the curt, all-business health-care provider that gave placebo acupuncture. But they were six times as likely to say their symptoms improved with a caring practitioner as those with the low-dopamine gene, who didn’t improve much in any group.

In the latest issue of PLOS ONE, Hall and her colleagues note that knowing if a person is genetically predisposed to respond favorably to a sham form of treatment could prove invaluable in clinical trials designed to test the effectiveness of drugs and other therapies. After all, if everyone in your placebo group is hardwired to respond favorably to any treatment — even to a sugar pill — it could seriously skew experimental results. Conversely, if the entire placebo group is genetically predisposed to not respond to placebos, it could cast the prospective therapy in a disproportionately favorable light.

Read more about Hall’s research over at LiveScience.

[PLOS ONE via LiveScience]

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