Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Gene Variations Can Be Barometer Of Behavior, Choices

Date:
July 21, 2009
Source:
Brown University
Summary:
Researchers have determined that variations of three different genes in the brain (called single-nucleotide polymorphisms) may help predict a person’s tendency to make certain choices.

Researchers at Brown University and the University of Arizona have determined that variations of three different genes in the brain (called single-nucleotide polymorphisms) may help predict a person’s tendency to make certain choices.

By testing DNA samples from saliva in conjunction with computerized cognitive tests, researchers found that the certain gene variations could be connected to certain choices — focusing on decisions that previously produced good outcomes, avoiding negative outcomes, or trying unfamiliar things even though an outcome is uncertain.

“In some cases, single genes can have surprisingly strong influences on particular aspects of behavior,” said Michael J. Frank, assistant professor of cognitive and linguistic science, psychology, and psychiatry and human behavior. Frank, lead author of the research, directs the Laboratory for Neural Computation and Cognition in the Brown Institute for Brain Science.

Frank worked with Brown graduate student Bradley Doll and collaborated with geneticists Francisco Moreno and Jen Oas-Terpstra of the University of Arizona. Research findings will be published in the August 2009 Nature Neuroscience and will be available online July 20. The paper builds on research Frank conducted while he was at the University of Arizona.

The study examined the effects of three genes that control aspects of dopamine function in the brain while participants performed a computerized decision-making task. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps keep the central nervous symptom functioning. Its levels fluctuate as the brain feels motivated or rewarded.

Varations in two of the genes — DARPP-32 and DRD2 — independently predicted the degree to which people responded to outcomes that were better or worse than expected, by reinforcing approach and avoidance type behaviors. These genes affect dopamine processes in the basal ganglia portion of the brain. Frank said this is important for “simple reinforcement of learning processes that you might not even be aware of.”

Frank and the other researchers also studied exploratory decision-making — the choices people make when they are in “uncharted territory.” They found that variations in a third gene — COMT — predicted the extent to which people explored decisions when they were uncertain whether the decisions might produce better outcomes.

COMT affects dopamine levels in the prefrontal cortex, known as an executive center of the brain. Frank said this level might be needed to “prevent the more basic motivational learning system from always taking control over behavior, so as to gather more information and prevent getting stuck in a rut.”

Frank said the findings could have some interesting implications. “We cannot say on the basis of one or two studies,” he said, “but if a student isn’t doing well in a particular learning environment, [a gene study could show that the student] may be well-suited to a particular teaching style.”

The data could help shape future treatments for conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, which involves dopamine loss. Treatment options now lead to unwanted side effects.

“Medications that increase dopamine stimulation can help treat debilitating aspects of the disease but in some patients the meds can induce pathological gambling and impulsivity,” he said.

Frank suggested that genetic factors involved in influencing motivational processes in the brain could someday help predict which patients would be negatively impacted by particular medications.

Seventy-three college students, with a median age of 19, took part in the study.

Scientists took saliva samples, from which they extracted DNA and analyzed the genes with subsequent computerized cognitive tests. Subjects watched a clock face, on which the arrow revolved around for five seconds, during which the subjects were to press a button once to try to win points. The subjects did not know that the statistics of their reward depended on their response time, and they had to learn to adjust their responses to increase the number of points they could win.

That data was then fed into a biologically based computer model that quantified the learning and exploration processes on a trial-by-trial basis. These variables were then compared against different genes.

A grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Mental Health funded the research.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Brown University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Brown University. "Gene Variations Can Be Barometer Of Behavior, Choices." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 July 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090720134242.htm>.
Brown University. (2009, July 21). Gene Variations Can Be Barometer Of Behavior, Choices. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090720134242.htm
Brown University. "Gene Variations Can Be Barometer Of Behavior, Choices." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090720134242.htm (accessed July 29, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Newsy (July 27, 2014) A new study shows sleep deprivation can make it harder for people to remember specific details of an event. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
University Quiz Implies Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians

University Quiz Implies Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians

Newsy (July 25, 2014) An online quiz from a required course at Ohio State is making waves for suggesting atheists are inherently smarter than Christians. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

AFP (July 24, 2014) A so-called drugs rehab 'clinic' is closed down in Pakistan after police find scores of ‘patients’ chained up alleging serial abuse. Duration 03:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) The FDA approved Targiniq ER on Wednesday, a painkiller designed to keep users from abusing it. Like any new medication, however, it has doubters. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins