One of the molecular causes of the behavioral and cognitive deficits observed in mice with a small chromosomal deletion has been identified, according to a study published online this week in Nature Genetics. The corresponding deletion in the human genome gives rise to a range of psychiatric disorders, and accounts for approximately 1?2% of cases of schizophrenia in the general population.
Deletion of a small region on chromosome 22 is associated with anxiety, depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, and deficits in working memory. Approximately 30% of the individuals carrying such a deletion eventually develop schizophrenia.
Maria Karayiorgou, Joseph Gogos and colleagues generated a model in which the corresponding region was deleted in the mouse genome. Mice carrying a single deletion show a range of behavioral and cognitive deficits that mimic some aspects of the human syndrome. Of particular interest is the increased expression of precursors of the small regulatory RNAs known as microRNAs in the brains of the mutant mice. The authors went on to show that loss of one of genes in the deleted region, Dgcr8, is responsible for this increased abundance of precursors, as the normal role of Dgcr8 is to process them into mature microRNAs. By generating mice that have only one copy of Dgcr8, the authors showed that this mutation by itself results in at least some of the deficits observed in mice with the deletion of the surrounding region.
Although the specific downstream targets of altered microRNA expression in the brain are not yet known, the authors suggest these findings could have general implications for understanding the genetic basis of psychiatric disorders.