Medical disorders are known to have well-defined characteristics that exist in bodily fluids, organs and tissues. On the other hand, psychiatric disorders are not seen to have a strongly defined pathology, but rather to be led by observable behaviors.
A recent study led by the UCLA has found schizophrenia, bipolar disorders and autism share some common physical characteristics at molecular levels, especially the patterns of gene expressions that exist in the brain. Further, researchers have also pinpointed underlying differences in the ‘gene expressions’ of these disorders.
Daniel Geschwind, senior author of the study says, “The findings in question have provided a pathological as well as a molecular signature of these related disorders that could be a step forward.” Geschwind is a professor of the neurology department and is the director of the UCLA Center for Autism research and treatment.
Prof. Geshwind comments, “The major challenge that eludes everyone is to understand the roots behind these changes.”
Researchers have highlighted certain genetic variations that put people at a greater risk of psychiatric disorder and suggest DNA alone cannot be held solely responsible. Although every cell in the human body has the same DNA, RNA molecules play a great role in the genetic expressions of different parts of the body. Thus, reading the DNA instructions alone is not sufficient to understand the disorders.
Michael Gandal, the coauthor of the study and lead author along with Geschwind, responded that taking a closer look at the RNA present in the brain tissue would satisfactorily provide molecular profiles that could be behind these psychiatric disorders. Gandal is an assistant professor at the UCLA.
The team successfully analyzed RNA molecules present in more than 700 tissue samples taken from the brains of deceased subjects who were known to have autism condition, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other major depressive disorders that were seen to be a leading factor behind alcohol abuse. The team ran a comparison to the other collected samples of brain tissue that were not affected by any psychiatric disorder.
Further, the molecular pathologies behind the conditions significantly overlapped between distinct disorders such as schizophrenia and autism. However, the researchers also note that other major depressive symptoms are also responsible in showing molecular changes that are normally not observed in other disorders.
Geschwind comments, “We are able to successfully show and demonstrate these molecular changes in regions of the brain are in fact connected to the genetic causes.”
However, Geschwind explains that ‘we are yet to understand the mechanisms that could be responsible in leading to these underlying changes.’
The authors conclude, “Although we are one step ahead in understanding the causes that we were earlier, the new work shows major developments that could pave way for further studies. We need to understand more mechanisms and develop suitable capabilities to change the outcome.”