Gene Analysis may Lead to New Treatments for Mental Illnesses

March 26, 2009

An analysis of the DISC1 gene, which plays a role in mental illness, may lead to improved methods for prescribing targeted medications.

An analysis of the DISC1 gene, which plays a role in mental illness, may lead to improved methods for prescribing targeted medications, according to findings from researchers at the University of Edinburgh, UK, who utilized existing data from the Human Genome Project to examine how the DISC1 gene impacts a number of other genes that current medications are designed to act upon. Their findings, published in the journal PLoS ONE, show that “six DISC1 cis-variants” significantly changed the “expression levels of the DISC1 gene in a semi-dominant fashion (15% average reduction in heterozygotes versus 19% in homozygotes).”

The researchers stated that the ability of the DISC1 variants to change the expression levels of the gene could be important clinically and “be tested by association studies of target genes and expression studies of post-mortem brain tissue.”

The antipsychotic drugs that currently exist for treating illnesses like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia were developed without any direct knowledge of the link between DISC1 and these disorders, according to the researchers. They added that the DISC1 pathway could now provide a more direct target for future drug development and that “DISC1 pathway variant profiling may serve as a useful predictor of individual response to a given therapeutic.”

“We know that disorders such as schizophrenia have a genetic element and that this specific gene, DISC1, is important to that process,” said project leader Dr. William Hennah, Finland Institute for Molecular Medicine. “This research helps us to understand exactly how it affects brain development and provides clues about how to solve problems when that process goes wrong.”