Gene Linked to Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia Plays Key Role in Brain Development

Tracey L. Petryshen, Ph.D. - brain and behavior research expert on schizophrenia
Tracey L. Petryshen, Ph.D.

During brain development, the brain is a frenzy of activity: new brain cells (neurons) are born, migrate to where they need to go, and eventually form connections with other neurons. Subtle problems with any of these steps can change the brain’s wiring diagram, and contribute to risk for developing schizophrenia and other psychiatric diseases.

A study published online May 13th in Molecular Psychiatry links an abnormality in the birth of neurons to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Led by Li-Huei Tsai of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the study focused on the workings of ANK3, a gene implicated in both bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Loss of ANK3, the researchers report, elevated the number of newborn neurons in the embryonic mouse brain.

This abnormal production of cells could be traced to a signaling pathway involved in brain development (and, interestingly, cancer—a disease of abnormal cell production). The researchers, including three NARSAD Grantees, Tracey L. Petryshen, Ph.D. (2014 NARSAD Independent Investigator Grantee), Karun K. Singh, Ph.D. (2013 NARSAD Young Investigator Grantee) and Pamela B. Sklar, M.D., Ph.D. (1995, 1998, 2006 NARSAD Grantee), could restore normal levels of neuron birth by boosting levels of another member of this pathway, called glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK3β).

The findings uncover a new role for ANK3, which encodes a protein better known for getting the channels essential for electrical signaling in the right places along the axon, which carries information between neurons. The new results suggest that ANK3 can fine-tune the number of new neurons born, and that perhaps producing too many or too few brain cells can contribute to risk for developing schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Read more about this research on the Schizophrenia Research Forum.

Read the abstract of this research paper.

Article comments

Interesting read. So bipolar and schizophrenia are almost akin to a type of brain cancer, Fascinating! Thank you for sharing!

yes our son developed schizophrenia (apparent symptoms) at 17 years, suffering later from depression not surprisingly considering the toll this illness inflicted on his quality of life; but most importantly in regards to the research above our son at twelve years complained of having too many thoughts, his mind racing with too much activity (like a storm) and he had problems concentrating and suffered form auditory processing which in time developed later into a full psychosis of hallucinations, voices and paranoia.

I do NOT agree that these things are anything like brain cancer. I predict in the future, they may find that highly spiritual people who practice and have been initiated with the help of others into being a shaman will find the same deficiency. They know SO little about the brain, less than the stars in the sky - keep on researching for sure - but I say spirituality needs to be brought in to all of this AND the ways of the heart. The heart is the wiser one.

spirituality ? Is impaired in the mentally ill patient. The I'll person might think God speaks to her/him, or that she/he is God. The line between sanity and insanity is tricky, but knowing somebody with schizophrenia I know that it's chemical, genetic and triggered by random events. So many religious leaders have proved to be unsafe, delusional and convincing. Religion etc is blind faith, science is ongoing and seeks a truth which constantly evolves to help us solve horrible destructive problems which people endure can be schizophrenia, measles or chicken pox, no great spiritual awaking here..just science and humanity.

My granddaughter has just been diagnosed with bipolar. It is heart breaking. she is also pregnant with her 2nd child. Everyday at 2pm I call her with words from God. He loves everyone so much. His love is unsearchable and forever lasting. I am trusting in the Lord for all the mothers and family going thru this. Amen.

Yes the lord be with every 1 he is our our hope

I'm sorry to contradict someone's beliefs, but with all due respect, I want to tell everyone, as a Bipolar Spectrum sufferer, that focusing on God and religion is not advisable when speaking with your Bipolar Spectrum Disorder children, relatives or friends. Thinking about God naturally leads to thinking about death. And loved ones they have lost. People with BSD spend a lot of time fighting death compulsion and obsession. Constantly reminding them that God and passed loved ones only serves to make them yearn for the peace of death even more. It would be wiser in my opinion to focus on helping them find creative projects to keep them focused On life, and leave the
"death talk" alone for the most part. You really have to be sensitive and careful not to "trigger" more of such thoughts and especiAlly, help them with self-care and coping day to day. Constant focus on God, praying, and heaven is not very compassionate in this situation despite how much it may comfort you. It 's like putting a gun in their hand and helping them put it in their mouth.

Angela, well said. My daughter has been suffering with bi-polar illness since 21 and now 47. It has been a tough road. I leave all the God stuff out as she has difficulty believing about God. As a practicing Catholic, I respect her wishes and just hope someday she will not be so mad at God. In the meantime, I try very hard to be "understanding" to all her issues.

Totally agree!! My daughter is 32 and was diagnosed about 4 yrs ago. Needless to say, I went through years of misdiagnosis and truthfully, just didn't know what was wrong. The Lord is my rock and I can't do anything without him. But each time my daughter talks about how people have wronged her, she uses the Lord's name as an escape. She says things like we all will answer to her God and God will take care of everyone that did something against her. Also she mentioned she couldn't wait for the Lord to come and take her and her kids up so they could be away from this cruel world! We all love the Lord and His mighty works, but Angela is right. In their minds, this could trigger them.

Absolutely right Angela! They also can obsess about religion and often experience religious fervor or delusions. Sometimes too much focus on religion can trigger these delusions in persons who tend toward schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type.

Wow! So bipolar and schizophrenia can be related to cancer??

Does the role of glycogen synthase kinase 3 have any implications for future treatments of bipolar or schizophrenia?

I was first told I had bipolar when I was 13. I'm now 37yrs old now I have been in the hospital once and the rest of the time have been under a doctor's care. I firmly agree do all the research you want. I for one would be the first in line if there was a cure, BUT I NEVER started noticing any changes in my self until I started changing spirituality. I still live day to day wishing things were different but their not. I have accepted that. My family hasn't but I have.

i have struggled with mental illness my whole life at age 13 starting with depression then bipolar now mayb also borderline personality disorder, i had uterine cancer, cervical cancer, and ovarian cancer, my aunt is bipolar and her son is schizophrenic and cancer is common in my family and so is alot of mental illness

Reading the information on bi-polar disorder I am glad to learn that it is not unusual for me to have uncomfortable feelings about God. I have struggle with belief and at times I get confuse because of my illness. There are times that I struggle with getting out of bed and wanting to enjoy life. I am constantly asking myself "why am I here. I go through heavy periods of depression. When I was younger I had more manic times, but as am older the reverse has happen. I have more depression than manic times. I can't understand why is's so hard to stay happy. I hope that eventually a cure is found.

Wish we could come up with something similar to the "ice bucket challenge" to raise more money for research, it is sooooo needed, if effective treatments are to be developed based on cause.

It's hard to understand the brain cancer link, but I can fathom a relationship to seizures, since the episodes are sporadic.

My husband and I adopted a little boy at 5 years of age, he is now a9 and was diagnosed years ago with bi-polar. He has been on lots of meds, some worked and some didn't. At 19 he does okay as long as everything goes his way. If he has a bump in the road he screams, throw's things, cusses at everyone and so on. I have a lot of people telling me oh, he is just spoiled, he is a jerk, I have spoiled him and it's my fault!! I have done a lot of research on mental illness. Tell me does anyone else have these problems and if so what do you do??

My son who is now 19 has struggled his whole life. He was diagnosed with depression and add at age 4. He also has learning issues. We are thankful to all his therapist s as they have been great. He has not ever been without a therapist and psychiatrist. We have always talked openly about his illness and encouraged him to use good judgment and self awareness on medication. He will have to live with us for many years to come but we remain encouraged one day he will lead a more full and complete life. We have seen it all and we are relentless in our message that like any other condition he is responsible for his actions.

Thank you for your insight in this study. I was diagnosed with bipolar 9 years ago. I have to say that my husband has been mybiggest advocate. My faith in God has helped to make this journey easier.

I have a son who is 9 and was finally accurately diagnosed bipolar at age 8. It is a debilitating illness for him and for our family. He is on meds but this time of year is his worst so the meds don't help that much. I wish the stigma of mental illness would be broken down because yes I used to get "you spoil him", etc and these people have no idea what we are going through. Ice bucket challenge for bipolar is a great idea!

Bipolar illness does not happen in children who are 8! The brain is still developing at that age... He may have other problems but not bipolar... Perhaps you should take him to another psychiatrist!

There is a difference in knowing and believing. Knowing the love and peace in your heart is possible for ever human being. Experiencing peace can help a person to live their life and be content even with a mental illness. Trying to feel what your heart is telling you can help you overcome the thoughts in your mind that can be so destructive and are mostly the opposite of peace.

Most people shouldn't even comment on this subject.

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