Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are two mental illnesses that can significantly affect people’s lives.
Schizophrenia is characterized by thoughts or experiences that are out of touch with reality, disorganized speech or behavior, decreased participation in daily activities, and difficulty with concentration and memory. Bipolar disorder is associated with episodes of mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs, with symptoms like high energy, reduced need for sleep, loss of touch with reality, low motivation, and loss of interest in daily activities.
The exact cause of both disorders is unknown, but genetics is believed to play a role. However, the prevalence of these conditions remains around 1% in populations around the world, leaving doctors to continue to wonder about the exact causes of these conditions.
Scientists recently discovered proteins in evolved regions of DNA outside of human genes. These regions of the ‘dark genome’ code proteins are linked to both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Read on to learn more about the ‘dark genome’ and this new discovery.
What Is The ‘Dark Genome’?
The ‘dark genome’ comprises 98%+ of the genetic sequence of cells that are not within protein-coding genes. It is made up of often-missed parts of the human genome and genetic features. These parts are either difficult or impossible to sequence.
However, these areas are closely connected to many diseases, underscoring the importance of study and exploration of the ‘dark genome.’ While historically the ‘dark genome’ wasn’t explored for disease-causing genes, recent studies into the genetic causes of psychosis have changed this.
Recent ‘Dark Genome’ Discovery
Until recently, it was unknown where in our DNA the genes for bipolar and schizophrenia disorders lived. But according to new findings, scientists have made new discoveries in the ‘dark genome’ that could tell a better story.
The research team from Cambridge University theorizes that these new regions evolved rapidly in humans as they actually play a role in human development. When the proteins are disrupted by environmental factors, however, the chances of developing the disorders increase.
They believe that these proteins may be biological indicators that can be used to differentiate between these two prevalent disorders. Their discovery could mean more accurate diagnosis and effective treatment for those who are affected.
Previously, it was believed only genes can make proteins, but these scientists have found new proteins that are involved in biological processes and are dysfunctional in disorders like these.
These genetic components are specific to humans, and it’s likely the regions quickly evolved as our cognitive abilities developed, but they are easily disrupted, resulting in schizophrenia and bipolar disorders.
What Does This Discovery Mean?
Scientists have found that the entire human genome has the ability to make proteins, not just genes, leading to the discovery of new proteins that are involved in biological processes and are dysfunctional in certain disorders.
This discovery is exciting for scientists because it opens the potential for new druggable targets, opening doors for understanding and treating these conditions that did not exist before.
Medications currently available target proteins coded by genes, which this discovery proves is not helpful for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Raising funds to develop new therapeutics that will target proteins implicated in these disorders, as well as other diseases, is already underway.
These new findings also help explain why schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are heritable conditions and can tell us more about how these disorders develop and are passed. They can also help psychiatrists better understand these disorders overall, allowing them to help and treat their patients more effectively. With further research, those suffering from these diseases will be able to receive more relevant and effective treatment.