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Sex-specific gene offers better view of mental illness


Narrator:        This is Science Today. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, recently discovered a number of genes that control sex-specific behaviors in mice. In addition to illuminating the role of genes in male and female behavior, identifying these genetic differences in the brain may be a starting point for understanding a number of mental illnesses in humans.

Shah:             We know that many neuropsychiatric illnesses — autism, schizophrenia, attention-deficit disorders, major depression — have a strong sex-bias. Autism is fourfold more common in boys. Schizophrenia, men are more likely to get it at a younger age.

Narrator:        Study leader Nirao Shah says they don't yet have a good understanding of what causes the sex difference, but believes his lab's discovery could have wider clinical implications in understanding and treating these diseases.

Shah:             We believe that many of the genes we've uncovered in the mouse, that are sexually dimorphic in the brain, suggest a way whereby the male or female brain is differentially vulnerable to insults that lead to a sex-skewing of these diseases.

Narrator:        For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.