August 19, 2009

Gene variations related to brain changes

U.S. and Norwegian scientists say they've shown gene changes are linked with brain structure changes in healthy people, as well as those with brain disorders.

A research team from Ullelval University Hospital and the University of Oslo, both in Norway; the University of California-San Diego; and the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, Calif., examined 944 healthy people, as well as patients with Alzheimer's disease and those with psychotic disorders. A genetic analysis and a structural magnetic resonance imaging study were completed for each person.

Researchers focused on the MECP2 gene that is associated with brain development, as well as regions surrounding the gene.

Common variations in the MECP2 region result in changes to brain structure, even in healthy individuals, said UC-San Diego Professor Anders Dale, a study co-author who said the research is the first to show such structural brain changes are seen in both healthy and brain-disordered individuals.

Nicholas Schork of the Scripps Institute, another co-author, said the variation in the MECP2 gene resulted in reduced surface area in the brain's cortex, the area that plays a key role in memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thought and language.

The study appears in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.