Gene Linked To Brain Damage In Pre-Term Babies

A gene in brain cells known as microglia could be the missing link between premature birth and brain-damaging inflammation.

AsianScientist (Sep. 11, 2017) – A joint study by researchers at King’s College London, Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS), Inserim and Paris Diderot University has helped to identify a gene linked to brain damage that can be caused by pre-term birth. These findings have been published in Nature Communications.

Premature labour is associated with inflammation in the mother or baby, often due to infection. This inflammation can cause damage to the brain that could lead to lifelong conditions such as cerebral palsy, autism and learning or behavioural difficulties in up to 30 percent of pre-term babies.

The present study investigates the role of microglial cells, which control the immune response in the brain, in responding to this inflammation. Researchers found a gene, known as DLG4, in these cells that is thought to be involved in controlling the inflammatory process.

DLG4 is found in different forms in all humans but previously was thought only to play a role in the function of the nervous system. This new finding suggests it is also involved in the process of brain damage in some pre-term babies and may open doors for research into more effective treatments of these diseases.

The researchers used an integrative approach which included mouse models of inflammation and a genomic analysis of over 500 infant brain scans. They identified differences in the way DLG4 was expressed in microglia in both the mouse models and brain scans.

This finding suggests a previously unknown mechanism of brain injury caused by pre-term birth. While the association requires further study to confirm the role of microglia and the DLG4 gene, the result contributes to an existing body of evidence that links the gene with both the immune response and neuropsychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia and autism.

“Given the previously acknowledged role of the DLG4 gene in brain diseases such as autism and schizophrenia, our study strengthens the link between the immune response and susceptibility to develop these brain disorders,” said Associate Professor Enrico Petretto from Duke-NUS.

The article can be found at: Krishnan et al. (2017) Integrative Genomics of Microglia Implicates DLG4 (PSD95) in the White Matter Development of Preterm Infants.


Source: Duke-NUS Medical School; Photo: Shutterstock.
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