New gene identified in women with mental illness

Washington, June 21 (IANS) In a significant finding that may lead to easier diagnoses and new treatment options, researchers have identified a particular gene whose over-production could be a diagnostic indicator of mental illness in female psychiatric patients.

The gene XIST, which is responsible for inactivating one of the two copies of the X chromosome in cells that store genetic material, works overtime in female patients with mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, major depression and schizophrenia.

Over-production of XIST and genes from the inactive X chromosome are common denominators in the development of psychiatric disorders in patients with rare chromosome disorders.

Reversing the abnormal activity of the inactive X chromosome in patients suffering from mental illness may offer a potential new strategy for treating psychiatric disorders.

“There has been an utmost urgency to identify biomarkers for mental illness that could significantly impact research and drug development,” said lead author Xianjin Zhou, assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

The study was conducted on 60 lymphoblastoid cell lines from female patients, most of whom had a family history of mental illness.

Approximately 50 percent of the female patients exhibited abnormally higher level of XIST and other genes related to the X chromosome.

“Our results indicate that a large subpopulation of female psychiatric patients from the general population may have abnormal function of the inactive X chromosome,” said Zhou pointed out.

“These results are powerful in that early diagnosis of mental illness could possibly happen with a simple blood test, leading to better interventions, therapy and treatment options,” Zhou concluded.

The study was published this week in the journal EbioMedicine.

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