Gene related to brain damage identified

Researchers at King’s College London have identified a gene thought to be associated with the types of brain damage that can be caused by pre-term birth.

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

Published in Nature Communications, the study investigated 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.

The study, which was a collaboration between King’s College London, Inserm and Paris Diderot University and Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, used an integrative approach which included mouse models of inflammation and a genomic analysis of more than 500 infant brain scans. It 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. Whilst 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.

Professor David Edwards, Director of the Centre for the Developing Brain at King’s College London and Consultant Neonatologist at Evelina London Children’s Hospital, said:

We have shown that the DLG4 gene is expressed differently in microglia when a brain has been damaged by inflammation.
In developing this work, we hope to provide a new avenue to study and understand how this inflammation and subsequent brain damage is caused so that scientists can work towards more effective treatments for diseases such as autism and cerebral palsy, by stopping or even preventing the inflammation associated with pre-term birth.

The King's Health Partners Genetics, Rheumatology, Infection, Immunology and Dermatology Clinical Academic Group promotes academic input into the delivery of state-of-the-art clinical services, fuels investigative clinical research, and promotes the translation of basic science discoveries.  

Read more on the King’s College London website.

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