Genetic mutations are known to cause serious birth defects in developing embryos. Scientists have now discovered that another important health condition is involved in this process: mental illness. Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco examined a mutation of the Dact1 gene in mice that disrupts the coding of the Dact1 protein and disrupts cell signaling pathways during embryonic development. When scientists manipulated the gene in mice after they developed normally, they found that it caused subtle disturbances in the brain, potentially contributing to psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, autism, and bipolar disorder.
“The genes that are involved in executive decisions are present in the cortex of the anterior part of the brain, as well as in the deeper parts of the brain, and are involved in fear and anxiety,” says lead researcher Dr. Benjamin Choetti. Protein Dact1 is involved in a group of biological pathways and is responsible for the transmission of signals between internal and external cells, and can help coordinate many important biological processes in humans and animals, such as fruit flies and mice. On the other hand, mutations along these pathways have been shown to lead to the emergence of various types of cancer and birth defects. Previous studies have also hinted at possible behavioral problems associated with mutations of this gene. Researchers noted that more research should be done on the equivalent Dact1 gene in humans to better understand why those with birth defects do not always suffer from mental illness – and vice versa.
“One answer is that a gene may be related to individual genetic variation within the human population. You may have other differences in genetics that make you more or less susceptible to mental illness, ”said the study author. Ultimately, Benjamin Choetti said the results of his research give hope for the development of new drugs to help fight mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.