n South African Psychiatry Review - Probing the molecules of the mind : review article

Volume 8, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 1811-7805



The molecular dimension of biology has been finding practical applications in all fields of medicine over the last few decades, but arguably one of the most challenging and exciting areas is that of molecular psychiatry. Much progress has been gained from traditional linkage studies into gene candidates for various psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, bipolar states, bulimia, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This review outlines basic principles of molecular medicine from the perspective of the human genome project and its role in enabling rapid progress in the understanding of molecular neuro-anatomy, physiology and pathology. These insights have facilitated rather than complicated the diagnostic process, and have paved the way, in what has been termed the "post-genome era", for a rational approach to therapy in a growing range of disorders. A patient's inherited genetic constitution is but one aspect of molecular medicine, and rich insights are also being gained into the operation of the genome as it interacts with its environment, including its pharmacological environment. From parallel processing technologies and genomic expression profiling, massive knowledge is being gained into the anatomical and physiological patterns of gene expression in different tissues and organs, their derangements in disease and their pharmacological manipulation. The brain is no exception, and an appreciation is being accumulated of the three dimensional anatomical localization of cerebral gene expression patterns, of great relevance to a fundamental understanding of neurobiology. From this new paradigm and others, insights are now being gained into the molecular biology of a variety of topics previously thought to be beyond the scope of molecular dissection, such as language and emotion.

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