Genetic variation in the non-coding DNA could give rise to language impairments in children and other neurodevelopmental disorders including schizophrenia, autism, and bipolar disorder, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and Radboud University in Nijmegen found. Molecular Psychiatry publishes their work based on a new approach on March 14.
The human genome is made up of ~3 billion letters of DNA and at each position it is possible to have different letters, called variants. Some variants are harmless but others can be detrimental, making it a mammoth task to find out which variants cause a disorder. Researchers often choose to search only the 1-2% of the genome that carries the information to make proteins. While this has been successful for a few disorders, most neurodevelopmental disorders are still largely unexplained, making it clear that looking elsewhere in the genome is necessary.
“The remaining 98% of the genome offers a lot of untapped potential to find changes that can cause disorders” Paolo Devanna, co-author of the study explains. “These parts of the genome are known as ‘non-coding’, but that doesn’t mean that they are not important. They have very vital jobs to do, for example to control when, where and how much protein is made. So if this process gets messed up, it could have severe consequences, like neurodevelopmental disorders.” For this reason, Devanna and his colleagues decided to look at the so called 3’UTRome. This is a part of the non-coding genome that regulates how much protein is made.