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July 9, 2005

Genetic Makeup of Aggression & Bipolar Disorder

Mice have long been used for studying human diseases, behavior, and our biology due to the fact that they have a surprisingly similar genetic makeup to us. Scientists have gone even farther now by studying the ability to change one's behavior due to genetic manipulation. In 2002, researchers at the University of British Columbia's Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics accidentally made a form of highly aggressive mice. The scientists unintentionally deleted a gene that influences their brain development. The absence of this gene led to the mice becoming vicious towards their caretakers as well as the other mice that they were with. Some even killed their mates, others chewed on their siblings' tails.

Now scientists attempted to give the mice their "niceness" back by giving them the gene that they were missing, except this time, from humans. Researchers gave the aggressive mice's embryos the "human version" of the gene that was currently absent from their makeup. Abraham (2005) stated, "Simpson said that gene, called NR2E1, is found on a region of chromosome 6 in humans and has been associated with bipolar disorder, a serious mental illness resulting in dramatic mood swings. The gene produces molecules that regulate other genes, suggesting it plays multiple roles in the human body, including those involved in brain development and function. That a similar version exists in the mouse suggests the gene is a primitive one, passed down to mice and people from a common ancestor many millennia ago." Once the human version of the gene was implanted into the embryos they became normal and lost their aggressive behavior.

This study shows that behavior can be manipulated by the absence or presence of particular genes. The use of human genes being added to the mice (which led them to become "nicer") exemplifies the potential that the absence or presence of that gene in humans could lead to similar affects. This could lead to our discovery of how to alter aggressive behavior in humans and potentially alter the disorders that lead to aggression, supposing that gene NR2E1 or another gene is involved. But the possibility of changing human behavior by manipulating one's genetic makeup is as scary as it is promising.

The source of this article was The Canadian Press & Globe and, written by Carolyn Abraham.

You can access the full article from Globe and Mail at:

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