A study on zebrafish embryos is helping neuroscientists to better understand diseases like autism and schizophrenia. University of Ohio researchers used minnows to analyze abnormalities in neurological development. In particular, they focused on the loss of the PCDH19 gene. It seems that the phenomenon is one of the causes of these diseases, even if the mechanics are still unclear.
Studies have revealed hundreds of genes linked to schizophrenia and autism. Unfortunately, scientists fail to understand how mutations affect brain development. For this reason, the team in question analyzed some zebrafish embryos. As these are transparent, it is easier to follow their development. Furthermore, zebrafish share a good chunk of DNA with humans.
The authors of the study introduced a mutation of PCDH19 in zebrafish, after which they analyzed the effects with a microscope. Thanks to the power of the instrumentation, scientists were able to observe neuronal activity. They discovered that the mutated embryos had much more grouped neurons than normal. It is still unclear what it means, but the unmodified embryos showed nothing of the sort.
The genetic mutation seems to have caused the connection between cells that normally do not interact. Perhaps diseases are caused by the interaction between areas that they should not communicate. Perhaps, the phenomenon becomes problematic when there are too many cells in a single network. For the moment we have only hypotheses that will be deepened.