(HealthDay News)  Variants of several genes linked to psychiatric disorders are associated with changes in brain structure observable at birth, according to a study published online Jan. 2 in Cerebral Cortex.

Rebecca C. Knickmeyer, PhD, from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and colleagues screened 272 newborns for common genetic variants of seven genes linked to various psychiatric disorders. To examine whether polymorphisms were associated with differences in brain tissue volumes, they performed high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging and applied automated region-of-interest volumetry and tensor-based morphometry.

The researchers found that newborns homozygous for the serine allele of the disrupted-in-schizophrenia-1 gene had many large clusters of reduced gray matter in the frontal lobes, similar to adults. Newborns homozygous for the valine allele of the catechol-O-methyltransferase gene had reduced gray matter in the temporal cortex and hippocampus, also similar to adults. Variants of estrogen receptor alpha, neuregulin 1, apolipoprotein E, and brain-derived neurotrophic factor genes were also associated with local variation in gray matter volume.

“In conclusion, we have shown that variation in putative psychiatric risk genes affects neural systems implicated in the pathophysiology of psychiatric disorders prior to birth,” Knickmeyer and colleagues write.

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