A combined team of U.S. and Australian scientists have found the mechanism a novel gene uses to affect brain functions and elicit behavior related to neuropsychiatric diseases.

It was discovered that the gene called Gomafu might be the key to understanding how our brain responds to stressful experiences. They also found that the gene Gomafu has recently been associated schizophrenia and is actively regulated in the adult brain.

“When Gomafu is turned off, this results in the kind of behavioural changes that are seen in anxiety and schizophrenia,” said Timothy W. Bredy, assistant professor of neurobiology & behavior at University of California – Irvine.

What does the gene Gomafu look like?

The gene is a long, non-coding RNA and confined within a section of the genome most commonly associated with “junk” DNA.

So what is junk DNA? DNA contains coding which are used to create proteins in the cell and not all the DNA comes with the instructions or coding and some of this non-coding DNA produce non-coding RNA component such as such as transfer RNA, regulatory RNA and ribosomal RNA. This non-coding DNA is known as junk DNA which make up 98% of the human genome.

You might as well want to read how new genes are formed from non-coding DNA.

Previously, it was thought that 98% of the human genome have no function, but this is the first time non-coding RNA activity has been detected in the brain in response to experience

“Early biologists thought that DNA sequences that do not make protein were remnants of our evolutionary history, but the fact is these sequences are actually highly dynamic and exert a profound influence on us,” Bredy said.

Researchers also found that non-coding DNA such as Gomafu might represent a potent surveillance system which helps brain rapidly respond to changes in the environment and distribution of this network in the brain might contribute to the development of neuropsychiatric disorders.

The controversy surrounding genome-wide association studies, where the majority of gene mutations that correlate with specific neuropsychiatric disorders are found within vast stretches of noncoding DNA sequences, hopefully might be resolved with these new findings and will enable better prediction of vulnerability and resilience to developing a neuropsychiatric disease.

The results which was published in the journal Biological Psychiatry revealed that Gomafu plays a role in mediating anxiety-like behavior, and suggest that this may occur through an interaction with a key member of the polycomb repressive complex 1, BMI1, which regulates the expression of the schizophrenia-related gene beta crystallin (Crybb1). [UC Irvine]