A discovery at the nanometer level helps to explain how bipolar disorder affects the brain and may one day lead to the development of new drugs and treatments designed to treat this mental illness.[Translation by Dr. Nachmani Moshe]
A discovery at the nanometer level helps to explain how bipolar disorder affects the brain and may one day lead to the development of new drugs and treatments designed to treat this mental illness.
A nanometer-sized discovery by scientists from the health services company Northwestern Medicine helps explain how bipolar disorder affects the brain and could even one day lead to the development of new drugs and treatments designed to treat this mental illness.
The scientists used an innovative imaging method with a particularly high resolution - the same method for which the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded in 2014 (The full news on the science website) - in order to penetrate deep into the brain tissue of a mouse exhibiting behavior typical of the disease. Inside the synapses (Miz't in Hebrew, the area where the communication between separate brain cells takes place) the researchers discovered tiny structures of "nanocomplexes" with high concentrations of ANK3 - the gene that is most clearly associated with the risk of developing bipolar disorder. This gene encodes the construction of the ankyrin-G protein.
"We know that the protein ankyrin-G plays an important role in bipolar disorder, but until now we didn't know why," said lead researcher Peter Penzes. "With the help of this powerful imaging method, we found that the gene is formed in the structures of nanocomplexes in the synapses, and we were also able to determine that these structures control or regulate the behavior of the synapses." Researcher Penzes is a professor of physiology and psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University School of Medicine. The research findings were published in the scientific journal Neuron.
Cases with high public resonance, such as those of celebrities Catherine Zeta-Jones and Jesse Jackson Jr., have led to an increase in attention to the mental illness called bipolar disorder. The disease causes extreme changes in mood, energy, activity levels and the ability to perform daily tasks. About 3% of Americans experience symptoms of the disease and to date no cure has been found to treat it.
Recent large-scale human genetics studies have shown that, together with factors of mental stress and other environmental factors, certain genes may contribute to increasing the risk of developing the disease. At the same time, the mechanism by which these genes, which increase the risk of the disease, affect the brain is still unknown.
This is the first time that a gene that causes psychiatric risk has been tested at such a high level of prot. As described in the article, the researchers used a microscope with extremely high resolution to examine the bipolar disorder in a mouse model. The particular microscope, of which only a few exist in the world, is able to reach a resolution of up to 115 nanometers. "There is important information regarding genes and diseases that can only be discovered at this level of separation," explains the lead researcher. "We were able to provide a neurobiological explanation regarding the function of the main risk gene, and this information may provide us with insights into the abnormalities associated with bipolar disorder." The biological framework presented in this article can be used in the future in human studies of bipolar disorder, with the ultimate goal being the development of medical approaches to repair these genes.