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Collaborations yield new discoveries in psychiatric genetics

NEW BRUNSWICK/PISCATAWAY, N.J. Two New Jersey research teams are reporting discoveries about the biological nature of psychiatric disorders that may bring them closer to the ultimate goal of finding cures for complex diseases, such as autism and schizophrenia.

Scientists at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) have unveiled new information regarding the genetic, cellular and neurological bases of susceptibility to these diseases.

Using data drawn from the Rutgers Cell and DNA Repository on 518 families, each with multiple autistic children, James Millonig and Linda Brzustowicz, assisted by Emanuel DiCicco-Bloom, led a team that further substantiates the link between autism and Engrailed 2 (EN2), a gene important in central nervous system development. Their research is presented in the November issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics (AJHG).

Millonig and Brzustowicz had previously demonstrated an association with the gene in a sample of 167 families with autism. The new study adds another 351 families and now provides convincing statistical support for the existence of a mutated form of EN2 that increases the risk for autism. The statistics also showed EN2 may contribute to up to 40 percent of autism cases in the general population.

EN2 is involved with the development of the cerebellum, the part of the brain that governs movement and, to some extent, language and speech. A change in EN2 could potentially produce symptoms of autism. Further work on characterizing EN2 and on the identification of additional autism susceptibility genes will be funded by a $2.3 million grant to Millonig and DiCicco-Bloom and a linked $2.5 million grant to Brzustowicz from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to identify additional autism susceptibility genes.

Millonig is an assistant professor of neuroscience and cell bi
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Contact: Joseph Blumberg
blumberg@ur.rutgers.edu
732-932-7084 x652
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey
6-Oct-2005


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