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From Neuron to Neuron

Not all cells in the body have exactly the same DNA as spontaneous mutations crop up in somatic cells, and, as Scientific American writes, researchers have now proposed to study whether this somatic mosaicism extends to neurons to influence neurological and psychological disorders.

"In the skin or gut, cells turn over in a month or week so somatic mutations aren't likely to hang around unless they form cancer," the University of Virginia's Michael McConnell, one of the study leaders, tells Scientific American. "[But] these mutations are going to be in your brain forever." And, there, they might contribute to neuropsychiatric disorder risk.

McConnell and the Brain Somatic Mosaicism Network, a consortium of 18 research teams at 15 institutions in the US, describe in Science how they plan to sequence brain DNA and single neuronal genomes from postmortem tissue from both neurotypical individuals and from people with neuropsychiatric disorders. In that way, they say they'll test whether brain somatic variants affect neuropsychiatric disease risk.

"As we understand more about somatic mosaicism, I think the contribution to individuality as well as the spectrum [of symptoms] you find in, for example, autism, will become clear," adds Alysson Muotri from the University of California, San Diego, who is not part of the consortium, at Scientific American.