Changes in the brain precede conditions such as autism and Schizophrenia

A new study has found that children with specific genetic variants could be susceptible  to multiple psychiatric impairments where early intervention therapies could be beneficial.

These conditions such as autism, dyslexia and schizophrenia are heralded by subtle changes in the way the brain processes information, and children with the genetic variant would benefit from early intervention therapies and techniques, researchers say.

The research was conducted by Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, Germany, closely affiliated with the University of Heidelberg and looked closely at genetic copy number variants, or CVN’s. These are basically part of the DNA sequence that have multiple numbers of copies, but can be translated slightly differently in some copies.

These copies do not always mean that the brain is changed by the genetics, but in some specific cases, it warrants more investigation into the predecessors of psychiatric conditions.

Co-author Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg of the CIMH said:

“In psychiatry we always have the problem that disorders are defined by symptoms that patients experience or tell us about, or that we observe.”

The fellows looked at an Icelandic sourced population, focussing on 26 different types of gene variations, all of which increase the chance of an autism or Schizophrenia diagnosis. Carriers were narrowed down to an 18-65 age group finding that 1,178 people, or 1.16pc of the original sample, carried one or more of these CNVs.

They used cognitive testing and MRI to spot subtle differences in cognitive function.

People with the genetic variants performed below average in the cognition tests.

Jonathan Sebat, a human geneticist at the University of California in San Diego who was not involved in the research said:

“It’s not as if [the variants] are just one incremental factor in your risk for psychosis and by themselves are not doing much. They actually are impacting cognition in a significant way.”

The article is published in January’s NATURE journal.