"When Gomafu is turned off, this results in the kind of behavioural changes that are seen in anxiety and schizophrenia," said Timothy Bredy, assistant professor of neurobiology and behaviour at the University of California, Irvine.

The gene is a long, non-coding RNA and was found within a section of the genome most commonly associated with "junk" DNA - the 98 percent of the human genome that, until recently, was thought to have no function.

"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 noted.

Bredy and colleagues at the University of Queensland and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia also found that non-coding 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 appeared in the journal Biological Psychiatry.


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