CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Significant progress has been made in understanding the genetic risk factors underlying psychiatric disease. Recent studies have identified common genetic mutations conferring modest risk and rare variants comprising significant risk. One example of a rare cause of psychiatric disorders is the Disrupted in Schizophrenia-1 (DISC1) gene, first identified in a large Scottish pedigree displaying schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression.
Common variants in DISC1 have been associated with altered cognition, brain structure and function, but it was unknown how this occurs. A new study co-authored by Li-Huei Tsai, director of MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, and her colleagues -- Karun K. Singh, Laurel Drane, Yingwei Mao, Zachary Flood and Cillian King -- demonstrates how DISC1 variants impair signaling pathways and disrupt brain development. This work is slated to appear in the November 17 issue of Neuron.
Signaling pathways offer clues
Earlier studies implicated common DISC1 variants in aberrant brain development, but the functional impact remained unclear, including whether these mutations affect the signaling pathways that influence brain structure. The new MIT study provides a framework to explain previously reported associations between DISC1 variants, human brain structural changes and psychiatric disorders. MIT researchers hypothesized that effects on brain development associated with common DISC1 variants are the result of disruption in specific signaling pathways.
The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory recently reported that DISC1 modulates Wnt signaling via GSK3β. Picower Institute Director Li-Huei Tsai commented: "The finding that DISC1 directly inhibits GSK3β is interesting given that the common mood stabilizer drug lithium and the schizophrenia risk gene Akt also inhibit GSK3β, which results in activation of canonical Wnt signaling, suggesting
|Contact: David M. Vaughn, Picower Institute|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology