Gene divides brain and brawn
27th January 2011
Gene discovery shows parents' genes act in different ways.
Dr Anthony Isles
Research Institute scientists have discovered a gene that defies conventional rules, with the copies inherited from mum and dad working in two very different ways.
All animals have two copies of each gene: one inherited from each parent. For most genes, both copies are active, but for some genes, one copy is switched off, a process called imprinting.
Researchers from the Neuroscience and Mental Health research Institute and MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics (CNGG) found that a gene called Grb10 has both copies active but the copy from the father is only active in the brain, whilst the maternal copy is active in all other parts of the body.
The study, published in Nature, has shown that the two copies also have very different functions: the maternal copy is involved in foetal growth, metabolism and fat storage, whereas the paternal one regulates social behaviour in adults.
Dr Anthony Isles, School of Medicine and Psychology, who led the research said: “This is the first example of where the copy of a gene has two very different functions depending on which parent it is inherited from.
“It seems that the mother and father are using different strategies to influence their offspring, one focussed on the body and the other on the brain.
“Imprinted genes are proving to be important for many aspects of human health, and are very important for brain function. Here is a single gene that may link growth in the womb with both physical and mental health in later life. In future research we’d like to investigate how this single gene might have evolved to serve such distinct purposes.”
The work, partly funded by the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Medical Research Council and a Wellcome Trust “Value in People” award, gives scientists a better understanding of how genes involved in metabolism work, shedding light on the causes of obesity in humans.