pointer to the NOVA program on epigenetics “Ghost in Your Genes” (YouTube link here). Fantastic footage. Great intro to epigenetics and so-called trans-generational effects and the inheritance of epigenetic marks – which, in some cases – are left by adverse or stressful experience. A weird, wild, game-changing concept indeed – that my grandchildren could inherit epigenetic changes induced in my genome by adverse experience.
Posts Tagged ‘Add new tag’
Posted in CRHR1, Uncategorized, tagged Add new tag, Depression, Development, Emotion, Genetics, Hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis, Major depressive disorder, Mental disorder, Mental health, Single-nucleotide polymorphism, Stress on April 6, 2010 | Leave a Comment »
According to the authors of “Protective effect of CRHR1 gene variants on the development of adult depression following childhood maltreatment: replication and extension“ [PMID: 19736354], theirs is “the first instance of Genes x Environment research that stress has been ascertained by more than 1 study using the same instrument“. The gene they speak of is the Corticotropin-releasing hormone receptor 1 (CRHR1) gene (SNPs rs7209436, rs110402, rs242924 which can form a so-called T-A-T haplotype which has been associated with protection from early life stress (as ascertained using the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire CTQ)).
The research team examined several populations of adults and, like many other studies, found that early life stress was associated with symptoms of depressive illness but, like only 1 previous study, found that the more T-A-T haplotypes a person has (0,1,or 2) the less likely they were to suffer these symptoms.
Indeed, the CRHR1 gene is an important player in a complex network of hormonal signals that regulate the way the body (specifically the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis) transduces the effects of stress. So it seems quite reasonable to see that individual differences in ones ability to cope with stress might correlate with genotype here. The replication seems like a major step forward in the ongoing paradigm shift from “genes as independent risk factors” to “genetic risk factors being dependent on certain environmental forces”. The authors suggest that a the protective T-A-T haplotype might play a role in the consolidation of emotional memories and that CRHR1 T-A-T carriers might have a somewhat less-efficient emotional memory consolidation (sort of preventing disturbing memories from making it into long-term storage in the first place?) – which is a very intriguing and testable hypothesis.
On a more speculative note … consider the way in which the stress responsivity of a developing child is tied to its mother’s own stress responsivity. Mom’s own secretion of CRH from the placenta is known to regulate gestational duration and thus the size, heartiness and stress responsiveness of her newborn. The genetic variations are just passed along from generation to generation and provide some protection here and there in an intertwined cycle of life.
The flowers think they gave birth to seeds,
The shoots, they gave birth to the flowers,
And the plants, they gave birth to the shoots,
So do the seeds they gave birth to plants.
You think you gave birth to the child.
None thinks they are only entrances
For the life force that passes through.
A life is not born, it passes through.
Posted in Chromosome structural variants, Intronic or repetitive sequences, Uncategorized, tagged Add new tag, Biology, bipolardisorder, Copy number variation, Depression, DNA, Gene, Genetic testing, Genetic variation, Genetics, Genome-wide association study, Mental disorder, Mental health, Single-nucleotide polymorphism, Twin, Twin study on April 5, 2010 | 1 Comment »
Twin studies have long suggested that genetic variation is a part of healthy and disordered mental life. The problem however – some 10 years now since the full genome sequence era began – has been finding the actual genes that account for this heritability.
It sounds simple on paper – just collect lots of folks with disorder X and look at their genomes in reference to a demographically matched healthy control population. Voila! whatever is different is a candidate for genetic risk. Apparently, not so.
The missing heritability problem that clouds the birth of the personal genomes era refers to the baffling inability to find enough common genetic variants that can account for the genetic risk of an illness or disorder.
There are any number of reasons for this … (i) even as any given MZ and DZ twin pair shares genetic variants that predispose them toward the similar brains and mental states, it may be the case that different MZ and DZ pairs have different types of rare genetic variation thus diluting out any similar patterns of variation when large pools of cases and controls are compared … (ii) also, the way that the environment interacts with common risk-promoting genetic variation may be quite different from person to person – making it hard to find variation that is similarly risk-promoting in large pools of cases and controls … and many others I’m sure.
One research group recently asked whether the type of common genetic variation(SNP vs. CNV) might inform the search for the missing heritability. The authors of the recent paper, “Genome-wide association study of CNVs in 16,000 cases of eight common diseases and 3,000 shared controls” [doi:10.1038/nature08979] looked at an alternative to the usual SNP markers – so called common copy number variants (CNVs) – and asked if these markers might provide a stronger accounting for genetic risk. While a number of previous papers in the mental health field have indeed shown associations with CNVs, this massive study (some 3,432 CNV probes in 2000 or so cases and 3000 controls) did not reveal an association with bipolar disorder. Furthermore, the team reports that common CNV variants are already in fairly strong linkage disequilibrium with common SNPs and so perhaps may not have reached any farther into the abyss of rare genetic variation than previous GWAS studies.
Disappointing perhaps, but a big step forward nonetheless! What will the personal genomes era look like if we all have different forms of rare genetic variation?
Posted in Suprachiasmatic nucleus, tagged 23andMe, Add new tag, Biology, bipolardisorder, Brain, Circadian rhythm, CLOCK, Depression, DNA, Mental health, Mood disorder, Seasonal affective disorder on March 17, 2010 | Leave a Comment »
If you’ve started to notice the arrival of spring blossoms, you may have wondered, “how do the blossoms know when its spring?“ Well, it turns out that its not the temperature, but rather, that plants sense the length of the day-light cycle in order to synchronize their own life cycles with the seasons. According to the photoperiodism entry for wikipedia, “Many flowering plants use a photoreceptor protein, such as phytochrome or cryptochrome, to sense seasonal changes in night length, or photoperiod, which they take as signals to flower.”
It turns out that humans are much the same. Say wha?!
Yep, as the long ago descendants of single cells who had to eek out a living during day (when the sun emits mutagenic UV radiation) and night cycles, our very own basic molecular machinery that regulates the transcription, translation, replication and a host of other cellular functions is remarkably sensitive – entrained – in a clock-like fashion to the rising and setting sun. This is because, in our retinas, there are light-sensing cells that send signals to the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) which then – via the pineal gland – secretes systemic hormones such as melatonin that help synchronize cells and organs in your brain and body. When this process is disrupted, folks can feel downright lousy, as seen in seasonal affective disorder (SAD), delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS) and other circadian rhythm disorders.
If you’re skeptical, consider the effects of genetic variation in genes that regulate our circadian rhythms, often called “clock” genes – very ancient genes that keep our cellular clocks synchronized with each other and the outside environment. Soria et al., have a great paper entitled, “Differential Association of Circadian Genes with Mood Disorders: CRY1 and NPAS2 are Associated with Unipolar Major Depression and CLOCK and VIP with Bipolar Disorder” [doi: 10.1038/npp.2009.230] wherein they reveal that normal variation in these clock genes is associated with mood regulation.
A few of the highlights reported are rs2287161 in the CRY1 gene, rs11123857 in the NPAS2 gene, and rs885861 in the VIPR2 gene – where the C-allele, G-allele and C-allele, respectively, were associated with mood disorders.
I’m not sure how one would best interpret genetic variation of such circadian rhythm genes. Perhaps they index how much a person’s mood could be influenced by changes or disruptions to the normal rhythm?? Not sure. My 23andMe data shows the non-risk AA genotype for rs11123857 (the others are not covered by 23andMe).
rs2132683, rs713155 and white matter near the left posterior lateral ventricle emerge from 14 billion statistical tests (vGWAS)
Posted in Frontal cortex, Lateral ventricle, Temporal lobe, White matter, tagged 23andMe, Add new tag, Brain, brain structure, Development, Frontal lobe, Genetics, Genome-wide association study, GWAS, Neuroimaging, Statistical hypothesis testing, Statistics, Temporal lobe, White matter on March 12, 2010 | 1 Comment »
An historic find has occurred in the quest (gold-rush, if you will) to link genome variation with brain structure-function variation. This is the publication of the very first genome-wide (GWAS) analysis of individual voxels (voxels are akin to pixels in a photograph, but are rather 3D cubes of brain-image-space about 1mm on each side) of brain structure – Voxelwise genome-wide association study (vGWAS) [doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.02.032] by Jason Stein and colleagues under the leadership of Paul M. Thompson, a leader in the area of neuroimaging and genetics – well-known for his work on brain structure in twin and psychiatric patient populations.
In an effort to discover genes that contribute to individual differences in brain structure, the authors took on the task of statistically analyzing the some 31,622 voxels (per brain) obtained from high-resolution structural brain scans; with 448,293 Illumina SNP genotypes (per person) with minor allele frequencies greater than 0.1 (common variants); in 740 unrelated healthy caucasian adults. When performed on a voxel-by-voxel basis, this amounts to some 14 billion statistical tests.
Yikes! A statistical nightmare with plenty of room for false positive results, not to mention the recent disillusionment with the common-variant GWAS approach? Certainly. The authors describe these pitfalls and other scenarios wherein false data is likely to arise and most of the paper addresses the pros and cons of different statistical analysis strategies – some which are prohibitive in their computational demands. Undaunted, the authors describe several approaches for establishing appropriate thresholds and then utilize a ‘winner take all’ analysis strategy wherein a single ‘most-associated winning snp’ is identified for each voxel, which when clustered together in hot spots (at P = 2 x 10e-10), can point to specific brain areas of interest.
Using this analytical approach, the authors report that 8,212 snps were identified as ‘winning, most-associated’ snps across the 31,622 voxels. They note that there was not as much symmetry with respect to winning snps in the left hemispere and corresponding areas in the right hemisphere, as one might have expected. The 2 most significant snps across the entire brain and genome were rs2132683 and rs713155 which were associated with white matter near the left posterior lateral ventricle. Other notable findings were rs2429582 in the synaptic (and possible autism risk factor) CADPS2 gene which was associated with temporal lobe structure and rs9990343 which sits in an intergenic region but is associated with frontal lobe structure. These and several other notable snps are reported and brain maps are provided that show where in the brain each snp is associated.
As in most genome-wide studies, one can imagine that the authors were initially bewildered by their unexpected findings. None of the ‘usual suspects’ such as neurotransmitter receptors, transcription factors, etc. etc. that dominate the psychiatric genetics literature. Bewildered, perhaps, but maybe thats part of the fun and excitement of discovery! Very exciting stuff to come I’ll bet as this new era unfolds!
It was a delight to speak with Professor Vaidya this morning on her recent article, Neural response to working memory load varies by dopamine transporter genotype in children. An understanding of how a single genetic variant can relate to brain function, behavior and clinical intervention involves the synthesis of a great many points of view (molecular, neural, systems, pharmacological and psychological). Professor Vaidya provides an outstanding example of this type of synthesis in her discussion of the dopamine transporter variant. Here are links to her lab, the blog post and the podcast.
Thanks very much to Dr. Vaidya for sharing her thoughts with us!
Posted in Fusiform gyrus, Middle frontal gyrus, middle occipital gyrus, NRG1, tagged 23andMe, Add new tag, Art, Brain, Cognition, DNA, Frontal lobe, Functional magnetic resonance imaging, Fusiform gyrus, Memory, Mental disorder, Mental health, Outsider art, Painting on March 10, 2010 | Leave a Comment »
According to wikipedia, “Jean Philippe Arthur Dubuffet (July 31, 1901 – May 12, 1985) was one of the most famous French painters and sculptors of the second half of the 20th century.” “He coined the term Art Brut (meaning “raw art,” often times referred to as ‘outsider art’) for art produced by non-professionals working outside aesthetic norms, such as art by psychiatric patients, prisoners, and children.” From this interest, he amassed the Collection de l’Art Brut, a sizable collection of artwork, of which more than half, was painted by artists with schizophrenia. One such painting that typifies this style is shown here, entitled, General view of the island Neveranger (1911) by Adolf Wolfe, a psychiatric patient.
Obviously, Wolfe was a gifted artist, despite whatever psychiatric diagnosis was suggested at the time. Nevertheless, clinical psychiatrists might be quick to point out that such work reflects the presence of an underlying thought disorder (loss of abstraction ability, tangentiality, loose associations, derailment, thought blocking, overinclusive thinking, etc., etc.) – despite the undeniable aesthetic beauty in the work. As an ardent fan of such art, it made me wonder just how “well ordered” my own thoughts might be. Given to being rather forgetful and distractable, I suspect my thinking process is just sufficiently well ordered to perform the routine tasks of day-to-day living, but perhaps not a whole lot more so. Is this bad or good? Who knows.
However, Krug et al., in their recent paper, “The effect of Neuregulin 1 on neural correlates of episodic memory encoding and retrieval” [doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.12.062] do note that the brains of unaffected relatives of persons with mental illness show subtle differences in various patterns of activation. It seems that when individuals are using their brains to encode information for memory storage, unaffected relatives show greater activation in areas of the frontal cortex compared to unrelated subjects. This so-called encoding process during episodic memory is very important for a healthy memory system and its dysfunction is correlated with thought disorders and other aspects of cognitive dysfunction. Krug et al., proceed to explore this encoding process further and ask if a well-known schizophrenia risk variant (rs35753505 C vs. T) in the neuregulin-1 gene might underlie this phenomenon. To do this, they asked 34 TT, 32 TC and 28 CC individuals to perform a memory (of faces) game whilst laying in an MRI scanner.
The team reports that there were indeed differences in brain activity during both the encoding (storage) and retrieval (recall) portions of the task – that were both correlated with genotype – and also in which the CC risk genotype was correlated with more (hyper-) activation. Some of the brain areas that were hyperactivated during encoding and associated with CC genotype were the left middle frontal gyrus (BA 9), the bilateral fusiform gyrus and the left middle occipital gyrus (BA 19). The left middle occipital gyrus showed gene associated-hyperactivation during recall. So it seems, that healthy individuals can carry risk for mental illness and that their brains may actually function slightly differently.
As an ardent fan of Art Brut, I confess I hoped I would carry the CC genotype, but alas, my 23andme profile shows a boring TT genotype. No wonder my artwork sucks. More on NRG1 here.
Posted in Cerebellum, CNTNAP2, Frontal cortex, Frontal pole, Fusiform gyrus, Rostral fronto-occipital fasciculus, Thalamus, White matter, tagged 23andMe, Add new tag, autism, Autism spectrum, Brain, Development, Frontal lobe, Functional magnetic resonance imaging, Genetic testing, Genetics, Grey matter, Health, Mental disorder, Mental health, Neural development, Neurodevelopmental, synaptogenesis, White matter on March 5, 2010 | Leave a Comment »
The A-to-T SNP rs7794745 in the CNTNAP2 gene was found to be associated with increased risk of autism (see Arking et al., 2008). Specifically, the TT genotype, found in about 15% of individuals, increases these folks’ risk by about 1.2-1.7-fold. Sure enough, when I checked my 23andMe profile, I found that I’m one of these TT risk-bearing individuals. Interesting, although not alarming since me and my kids are beyond the age where one typically worries about autism. Still, one can wonder if such a risk factor might have exerted some influence on the development of my brain?
The recent paper by Tan et al., “Normal variation in fronto-occipital circuitry and cerebellar structure with an autism-associated polymorphism of CNTNAP2” [doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.02.018 ] suggests there may be subtle, but still profound influences of the TT genotype on brain development in healthy individuals. According to the authors, “homozygotes for the risk allele showed significant reductions in grey and white matter volume and fractional anisotropy in several regions that have already been implicated in ASD, including the cerebellum, fusiform gyrus, occipital and frontal cortices. Male homozygotes for the risk alleles showed greater reductions in grey matter in the right frontal pole and in FA in the right rostral fronto-occipital fasciculus compared to their female counterparts who showed greater reductions in FA of the anterior thalamic radiation.”
The FA (fractional anisotropy – a measurement of white-matter or myelination) results are consistent with a role of CNTNAP2 in the establishment of synaptic contacts and other cell-cell contacts especially at Nodes of Ranvier – which are critical for proper function of white-matter tracts that support rapid, long-range neural transmission. Indeed, more severe mutations in CNTNAP2 have been associated with cortical dysplasia and focal epilepsy (Strauss et al., 2006).
Subtle changes perhaps influencing long-range information flow in my brain – wow!
More on CNTNAP2 … its evolutionary history and role in language development.
Posted in SAPAP3, Striatum, tagged Add new tag, Adolescence, Brain, Chemical synapse, Development, Mental disorder, NMDA, NMDA receptor, Obsessive–compulsive disorder, Walter Dean Myers, Young Landlords on February 22, 2010 | Leave a Comment »
Walter Dean Myers, an author of The Young Landlords and many other classic coming of age novels once remarked, “The special place of the young adult novel should be in its ability to address the needs of the reader to understand his or her relationships with the world, with each other, and with adults.“ Indeed, the wonderful elaborations of psychosocial development that occur during the teenage years makes for a vivid and tumultuous time – worthy of many a book – especially those like Myers’ that so help adolescents to cope. During this time, a child’s brain and body is supplanted by adult systems, which, from a physiological point of view, place the adolescent’s mind and body at the mercy of thousands of shifting biochemical processes. Such a notion of the shifting sands of adolescence were brought to mind while reading a research article focused on one – just one single example – of biochemical change.
The paper entitled, “Cortico-striatal synaptic defects and OCD-like behaviors in SAPAP3 mutant mice” [doi: 10.1038/nature06104] points out that mice who lack the function of the post-synaptic density scaffolding protein encoded by the SAPAP3 gene display excessive grooming and other behaviors reminiscent of obsessive compulsive disorder – a condition that frequently emerges during adolescence. One of the main findings of the paper is that a normal developmental shift of NR2B –> NR2A subunits of the NMDA receptor does NOT seem to occur – rendering the SAPAP3 mutant mice with an immature form of NMDA receptor. The authors suggest that this may be the underlying reason for the aberrant behavior, and were able to normalize the mutant mice by re-introducing SAPAP3 protein via a lentiviral-mediated expression vector placed in the striatum.
Gosh. This NR2B –> NR2A shift is just one example – one grain – in the shifting biochemical sands of development. Just one of thousands. How did my brain ever make it through?
C.H. Waddington provides conceptual framework for shifting influences of genes and environment in the development of mind
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged Add new tag, Brain, Cognition, cognitive development, Development, evolution, Genetics, Human behavior, Intelligence, Mutation, Population genetics, Psychology, Twin, University of Edinburgh on January 12, 2010 | Leave a Comment »
Just a pointer to onetime Professor of EdinburghC.H. Waddington’s 1972 Gifford Lecture on framing the genes vs. environment debate of human behavior. Although Waddington is famous for his work on population genetics and evolutionary change over time, several of his concepts are experiencing some resurgence in the neuroimaging and psychological development literatures these days.
One term, CHREOD, combines the Greek word for “determined” or “necessary” and the word for “pathway.” It describes a system that returns to a steady trajectory in contrast to homeostasis which describes a system which returns to a steady state. Recent reviews on the development of brain structure have suggested that the “trajectory” (the actual term “chreod” hasn’t survived) as opposed to any specific time point is the essential phenotype to use for understanding how genes relate to psychological development. Another term, CANALIZATION, refers to the ability of a population to produce the same phenotype regardless of variability in its environment or genotype. A recent neonatal twin study found that the heritability of grey matter in neonatal humans was rather low. However it seems to then rise until young adulthood – as genetic programs presumably kick-in – and then decline again. Articles by neurobiologist Jay N. Giedd and colleagues have suggested that this may reflect Waddington’s idea of canalization. The relative influence of genes vs. environment may change over time in ways that perhaps buffer against mutations and/or environmental insults to ensure the stability and robustness of functions and processes that are both appropriate for survival and necessary for future development. Another Waddington term, EPIGENETIC LANDSCAPE, refers to the limitations on how much influence genes and environment can have on the development of a given cell or structure. Certainly the environment can alter the differentiation, migration, connectivity, etc. of neurons by only so much. Likewise, most genetic mutations have effects that are constrained or compensated for by the larger system as well.
Its amazing to me how well these evolutionary genetic concepts capture the issues at the nexus of of genetics and cognitive development. From his lecture, it is clear that Waddington was not unaware of this. Amazing to see a conceptual roadmap laid out so long ago. Digging the book cover art as well!
Image by lintmachine via Flickr
Like “Joe the Plumber” (whose real name is Samuel), CNTNAP2 (whose real name is CASPR2) has achieved a bit of fame lately. While recently appearing almost everywhere (here, here, here) except FOX News, CNTNAP2 (not Joe the Plumber) is apparently a transcriptional target of the infamous FOXP2 “language gene” – so says Sonja C. Vernes & colleagues [doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa0802828] who precipitated DNA-protein complexes using anti-FOXP2 antibodies from a cell line transiently expressing FOXP2. The team later evaluated measures of expressive and receptive language abilities and nonsense-word repetition and found that a series of snps – most significantly rs17236239 – were associated with performance of children from a consortium of families at risk for language impairment. This adds to several previous reports of CNTNAP2 and risk for autism, a disorder where language ability is severely impaired.
So what’s all the fuss ? How can something so insignificant (rs17236239 not Joe the Plumber) stir up so much trouble ? Well, as reported in a previous post, the expression of CNTNAP2 in the developing superior temporal cortex may be a relevant clue since this brain region is activated by language tasks. Also, this gene encodes a rather massive protein which (as reported by Coman et al.,) seems to participate in the establishment of myelination and “nodes” that permit rapid neural transmission and long-range coordination across neural structures in the brain. Interestingly, this gene shows evidence for recent positive selection in humans (as posted on here and here) although the newly derived G-allele at rs17236239 seems to be the allele that is causing the language difficulties. My own 23andMe profile shows a middling A/G here which makes it slightly hard to recall and repeat “Samuel Wurzelbacher”.