Rutgers scientists use genetic engineering technique to create brain cells for studying Tourette’s

Scientists at Rutgers University-New Brunswick used a genetic engineering technique for the first time to create brain cells from the blood cells of individuals in a three-generation family with Tourette syndrome to help determine what causes the disease.

“This is so important to the future research of Tourette’s and other neuropsychiatric disorders because before this technique was discovered we were unable to study brain-type nerve cells of living patients,” said Jay Tischfield, senior author of the study published in Molecular Psychology and MacMillan Distinguished Professor of Genetics. “I think this technique will give us a better understanding of what sorts of genes cause this disease. Also, these cells could be used to screen drugs that might be effective for treatment.”

While the technique – which led to a Nobel Prize in 2012 for the Japanese and British scientists who discovered it — has been used to investigate the genetic link of other psychiatric or neurological diseases like schizophrenia and Lou Gehrig’s disease, this is the first time the procedure was used in researching a cause of Tourette syndrome, which has no precise treatment and cannot yet be diagnosed by genetic testing.

Tischfield, and doctoral student Nawei Sun, and their colleagues, converted blood cells of members of the same family, those who had Tourette’s and those who did not, into induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, which were then converted into brain nerve cells. Pluripotent stem cells are capable of maturing into any type of adult cell – from a heart muscle cell to a nerve cell – and offer scientists an opportunity to study inherited diseases in the tissues that are most affected.

Through sequencing all of the protein encoding DNA in many members of this large family, the Rutgers group concluded that the observed Tourette disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder was likely due to a mutation in the PNKD gene that was present in family…

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