While not all impulsive behavior indicates mental illness, a wide range of mental health disorders often seen in adolescence, including depression and substance abuse, have been linked to impulsivity. So finding a way to identify and treat those who may be particularly prone to impulsivity early in life is especially important.
A group of researchers, led by researchers at McGill University, has developed a genetics-based score that can help identify, with a high degree of accuracy (greater than any currently used impulsivity scores), young children who are most at risk of impulsive behavior.
Their findings are particularly compelling because their finding was able to detect people at greater risk of impulsivity within three ethnically diverse community samples of children, from a group of nearly 6,000 children.
This discovery of a new indicator of impulsivity in early life could guide prevention strategies and programs for children and adolescents at risk for mental disorders. Additionally, by describing the function of the gene networks that comprise the result, the study could stimulate the development of new treatments in the future.
A shift in perspective leads to new results
The impulsive risk score was developed by looking at the co-expression of a number of genes in the prefrontal cortex and striatum, regions of the brain that play a role in decision-making and emotional regulation, among other things.
Patricia Bellofo Silvera, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and a researcher at the Douglas Research Center and one of the lead authors on the latest paper in Molecular Psychiatry. “We got to the problem from the other way around, by focusing on a gene known to be associated with brain maturation in these two key regions and then looking for a network of other genes that are more closely related to it.. “
It took a lot of fishing
This approach was based on previous work in mouse models, led by Cecilia Flores, the paper’s co-lead author and full professor, in the Department of Psychiatry that identified the importance of a specific gene (known as DCC), which serves as a “guideline” that identifies when and specifically where dopamine cells form in the brain and connections in the prefrontal cortex and striatum. This coordinated development is necessary for the maturity of impulse control.
But to create the new impulsive score, it took a lot of research to narrow down the genes most closely related to it DCC. “Our approach exploits the fact that genes operate within complex networks that ultimately perform very precise biological functions. These so-called genetic networks have the property of being highly tissue-specific, so we started by taking an unbiased look at the gene clusters,” says co-author Jose Maria Restrepo, a PhD student in the program. Integrated Neuroscience at McGill University: “It is co-expressed with DCC in brain regions that play an important role in supporting inhibitory control.”
“The findings underscore the importance of data sharing and open science,” Flores adds. “Imagine if we had to collect this information in all these countries over all these years. Our discovery was only possible because we had access to all of this data.”