Los Angeles — Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania may have found a way to determine if a young child is at risk of developing either autism, or psychosis.
In a study published in the journal PLOS One, the scientists reported that they have successfully isolated specific differences in the genetic expressions of patients with DiGeorge Syndrome— a condition resulting from chromosomal abnormality — also known as the 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, and were successful in identifying which gene expressions result to the accompanying psychosis in the patients’ DiGeorge Syndrome, and which are responsible for the accompanying autism in the syndrome. According to UCLA Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology and the study’s senior author, Carrie Bearden:
“Ultimately, this kind of information could be used as a diagnostic tool that could allow pediatricians or other clinicians to determine who will develop which disorder, so that the appropriate intervention can be applied — and applied early enough to have the most impact. We know that early intervention is very important for people at risk for autism or psychosis.”
The study involved 46 patients in UCLA who were found to have the deletion, as well as 66 control subjects. Blood tests were performed in each of the subjects to analyze their genes. The researchers used a newly-invented technique called the “weighted gene co-expression network analysis,” a technique developed by Steve Horvath, a geneticist at UCLA.
Researchers also found in a separate experiment that patients with the deletion who had psychosis shared something in common with those without the deletion but were diagnosed with schizophrenia— an overlap in a total of seven genes which play a critical role in fetal brain development. According to Bearden:
“This finding is really important because it provides proof that altered gene expression patterns in those with DiGeorge syndrome and psychosis are shared with people who are diagnosed with schizophrenia but do not have the deletion. The same pathways are affected.”