In what can be considered as an important breakthrough in our still limited understanding of major mental illness, researchers have identified a new gene linked to major mental illness that links back to a previously discovered gene known to increase the risk of schizophrenia and depression.
Scientists from the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, together with scientists from the pharmaceutical company Merck, Sharp & Dohme Limited, report the discovery of the second gene, phosphodiesterase 4B (PDE4B) in the Nov. 18 issue of the prestigious journal Science. Their discoveries could lead to the eventual development of new drugs to treat mental health problems.
In 2000, researchers at the University of Edinburgh identified a gene they called Disrupted in Schizophrenia 1 (DISC1), which was found to increase the chances of people developing schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (manic depression) and major clinical depression.
Now, new research by the two Universities and by scientists from the pharmaceutical company Merck Sharpe and Dohme reveals that damage to the gene PDE4B is also seen to increase the risk of developing mental illness.
PDE4B was already known to play an important role in how the brain thinks and builds memories, but had not previously been linked to mental disorder. In addition, researchers have discovered that DISC1 acts as a regulator for PDE4B, creating a 'pathway' between the two genes.
"It is now clear that the DISC1 gene plays an important role in the risk of developing schizophrenia or bipolar affective disorder. The new genetic link we have made to PDE4B and how that links back to DISC1 sheds much needed light on these debilitating disorders. It also suggests a new way of thinking about developing better and effective medicines."
According to Professor Miles Houslay of the University of Glasgow, "This new research has the potential for developing novel ways of diagnosing and treating this debilitating disease."
Peter Hutson, the Neuroscience Research Centre, Merck Sharp & Dohme, said: "Mental illness remains a scourge of society. Our insights into the important role that the proteins PDE4B and DISC1 may play in the mis-function of the brain that leads to schizophrenia will lead our thinking in the development of new treatments for this disorder"
The new discovery may in the future lead to the eventual development of new drugs to treat mental health problems, the researchers said.