Scientists at Cambridge University have recently discovered new proteins within evolved regions of the ‘dark genome’ (areas of DNA outside our genes). These particular evolved regions code proteins that are associated with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Taking a closer look, the research team at Cambridge University think that these genomic components of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are specific to humans, as the newly discovered regions are not found in the genomes of other vertebrates.
Together, they’ve theorized that these new regions evolved quickly in humans, as fast as our cognitive development. The reason behind this rapid evolution is believed to be that these regions are somehow beneficial to functions in human development. However, the researchers have theorized that the disruption of these proteins due to environmental factors leads to the susceptibility, or to the development of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
The research team has stated the discovery of these proteins means they could be used as biological indicators to distinguish between the two conditions, helping to identify patients who are more prone to psychosis or suicide. In addition, there is also hope it could lead to the development of new and improved treatments.
“By scanning through the entire genome we’ve found regions, not classed as genes in the traditional sense, which create proteins that appear to be associated with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder,” said Dr Sudhakaran Prabakaran, who was based in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Genetics when he conducted the research, and is senior author of the report.
“This opens up huge potential for new druggable targets. It’s really exciting because nobody has ever looked beyond the genes for clues to understanding and treating these conditions before.”