London, July 24: How one critical gene functions during the first week after a baby's birth may have bearing on his/her developing schizophrenia, reveals a new study.
The findings suggest that interventions for preventing this long-term mental disorder may begin very early in life.
The gene is known as 'disrupted in schizophrenia-1' (DISC-1). Past studies have shown that when mutated, the gene is a high risk factor for mental illness including schizophrenia, major clinical depression and bipolar disorder.
"We believe that DISC-1 is schizophrenia's Rosetta Stone gene and could hold the master key to help us unlock our understanding of the role played by all risk genes involved in the disease," said lead researcher Kevin Fox, professor at Cardiff University in Britain.
"We have identified a critical period during brain development that directs us to test whether other schizophrenia risk genes affecting different regions of the brain create their malfunction during their own critical period," Fox noted.
The findings were reported in the journal Science.
Conducting their experiments in mice, the scientists found that in order for healthy development of the brain, the DISC-1 gene first needs to bind with two other molecules known as 'Lis' and 'Nudel'.
The researchers were able to pinpoint a seven-day window early on in the brain's development - one week after birth - where failure to bind had an irreversible effect on the brain's ability to adapt its structure and function (also known as 'plasticity') later on in adulthood.
"The challenge ahead lies in finding a way of treating people during this critical period or in finding ways of reversing the problem during adulthood by returning plasticity to the brain," Fox noted.
"This, we hope, could one day help to prevent the manifestation or recurrence of schizophrenia symptoms altogether," Fox said.
Schizophrenia affects around one of the global population. The symptoms of the disorder can be extremely disruptive, and have a large impact on a person's ability to carry out everyday tasks, such as going to work, maintaining relationships and caring for themselves or others.