Washington: Scientists have identified a novel gene linked to anxiety and schizophrenia.
Researchers at the University of California - Irvine and colleagues found the mechanism the gene uses to affect brain function and elicit behaviour related to neuropsychiatric disease.
The gene called Gomafu might be key to understanding how our brain rapidly responds to stressful experiences.
By looking across the entire genome for genes that are responsive to experience, they found Gomafu - which has recently been associated with schizophrenia - to be dynamically regulated in the adult brain.
"When Gomafu is turned off, this results in the kind of behavioural changes that are seen in anxiety and schizophrenia," said Timothy W Bredy, assistant professor of neurobiology and behaviour at UC Irvine.
The gene is a long, noncoding RNA and was found within a section of the genome most commonly associated with "junk" DNA - the 98 per cent of the human genome that, until recently, was thought to have no function.
This is the first time long, noncoding RNA activity has been detected in the brain in response to experience.
"Early biologists thought that DNA sequences that do not make protein were remnants of our evolutionary history, but the fact is these sequences are actually highly dynamic and exert a profound influence on us," Bredy said.
Bredy and colleagues also found that noncoding genes such as Gomafu might represent a potent surveillance system that has evolved so that the brain can rapidly respond to changes in the environment.
He added that a disruption of this network in the brain might contribute to the development of neuropsychiatric disorders.
The study appears in the journal Biological Psychiatry.