Researchers discover new variant on notorious resistance gene

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Head injuries can harm hundreds of genes in the brain in a way that increases people's risk for a wide range of neurological and psychiatric disorders, UCLA life scientists report.

The researchers identified for the first time master genes that they believe control hundreds of other genes which are linked to Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, stroke, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, depression, schizophrenia and other disorders.

Knowing what the master genes are could give scientists targets for new pharmaceuticals to treat brain diseases. Eventually, scientists might even be able to learn how to re-modify damaged genes to reduce the risk for diseases, and the finding could help researchers identify chemical compounds and foods that fight disease by repairing those genes.

"We believe these master genes are responsible for traumatic brain injury adversely triggering changes in many other genes," said Xia Yang, a senior author of the study and a UCLA associate professor of integrative biology and physiology.

Genes have the potential to become any of several types of proteins, and traumatic brain injury can damage the master genes, which can then lead to damage of other genes.

That process can happen in a couple of ways, said Yang, who is a member of UCLA's Institute for Quantitative and Computational Biosciences. One is that the injury can ultimately lead the genes to produce proteins of irregular forms. Another is to change the number of expressed copies of a gene in each cell. Either change can prevent a gene from working properly. If a gene turns into the wrong form of protein, it could lead to Alzheimer's disease, for example.