MRI finds mental illness risk genes in infants
Article Thumbnail ImageJanuary 3, 2013 -- Using MRI, researchers have found that brain changes observed in adults with common gene variants linked to disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, and autism can also be seen in the brain scans of newborns. Results of the study were published January 3 in Cerebral Cortex.

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The findings suggest that prenatal brain development may be a very important influence on psychiatric risk later in life, according to lead author Rebecca Knickmeyer, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Medicine.

The study included 272 infants who received MRI scans at UNC Hospitals shortly after birth. The DNA of each child was tested for 10 common variations in seven genes that have been linked to brain structure in adults. These genes have also been associated with conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, Alzheimer's disease, anxiety disorders, and depression.

For some gene variants, the brain changes in infants looked very similar to brain changes found in adults with the same variants. The results could launch a new line of research focused on preventing onset of illness through very early intervention in at-risk individuals, Knickmeyer said in a statement about the study.