The DISC1 gene is a major red flag for a high risk of various mental illnesses, including depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. According to brain imaging studies, these illnesses involve alterations in both the structure and connectivity of the brain. Yet for the first time, scientists have revealed how the disruption of a key gene involved in mental illness impacts the brain. This discovery that could pave the way for developing effective psychiatric drugs to combat such mental illness in the future.
Through studying the genetics of several generations of one Scottish family affected by these psychiatric illnesses, it’s been revealed that all of these illnesses were connected to the disruption of the DISC1 gene. As of now, however, this connection remains unclear. While much is still left up in the air, this is the first time that neuroscientists have been able to reveal that the disruption of this key risk gene is able to significantly modify the organization of functional brain networks. Dr. Neil Dawson, the leader of the research team, has pointed out how this data strongly suggests that being able to disrupt DISC1 is a key molecular event with the potential to contribute to emerging disease-relevant alterations in brain function.
Through their studies of this Scottish family, the research team has found a way to determine deficits in brain function and functional connectivity. These deficits themselves result from the disruption of DISC1, and are relevant to various psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia-related alterations in brain function, functional brain network connectivity and the functioning of the glutamate neurotransmitter system. The findings of this study parallel various changes that have been seen in the brains of schizophrenia patients. Because of this, this research has a huge amount of potential to pave the way towards developing new drug treatments for the illness.