Looking for genetic mutations in individual neurons to explain psychiatric disorders breaks from an old school of thought. "The idea is something that 10 years ago would have been science fiction. We were taught that every cell has the same DNA, but that's not true," biochemist James Eberwine of the University of Pennsylvania told Scientific American. Turns out, one person's brain could have multiple genomes.
Scientists are teaming up to take a look at somatic mutations, alterations in the DNA cells that causes a hodgepodge of genetic differences known as somatic mosaicism, as a potential culprit for disorders like autism. They're using an array of methods to look into the "frequency and pattern" of somatic mutations in brains with neuropsychiatric disorders compared to those in normal brains, according to a paper published in Science.
However, that's not to say people without a disorder can't also have mutations. The frequency and pattern could be key to revealing when mutations lead to a disorder. Because individual neurons live as long as you do and, obviously, have a direct influence on the way the brain operates, even a handful of neurons with genetic mutations can have a big impact on the brain.