The Future is Bright

Canli, Turhan, and Klaus-Peter Lesch. “Long Story Short: The Serotonin Transporter in Emotion Regulation and Social Cognition.” Nature Neuroscience. 10.9 (2007): 1103-1109. Print.

Today I read a review study on the relationship between a specific genotype, 5-HTTLP, and its relationship toward emotional regulation, depression, and social cognition.  It was a remarkable read, because the study produces a brief window into how much scientists know, and how this could effect our future lives.  There is more knowledge on how we as human beings develop, through genetics and the effects the environment has on the genes.

Essentially this gene when transcribed, creates a protein that has to do with serotonin reuptake in the synaptic cleft.  Basically that means serotonin gets removed from the synapse after an action potential, reusing that matter for future potentials (neuron firing).  So in basic terms, this protein has a direct effect on serotonin concentration in the brain.  If more of the serotonin gets removed, this creates lower levels of serotonin, which this study focused on four things that serotonin affect (there might be more, not sure).  Emotional regulation, depression, anxiety, and social cognition were all focused in this study.  I have read previously, that the brain has low levels of serotonin when it is dealing with depression.  And where there is depression, there is anxiety and social anxiety for some people.  What I am trying to say, is that low serotonin levels therefore induces depression, anxiety, and probably promotes the feelings of guilt and inadequacy.

What is really interesting is that there are two types of this gene, 5-HTTLP.  The short and long versions.  This basically means the gene is either long or short on the DNA molecule, having different number of bases which I believe are made of amino acids.  Basically they took a look at people who had the short and long versions, and monitored amygdala activity since it is a central region of the brain that is associated with emotion, especially fear.  What they found was there was a wider spectrum of response generally when people had the short version of the gene.  The electrical activity was much less broad with the long version.  They accomplished this by doing fMRI scans of people who were watching pictures of various people portraying different emotions.  This suggest that emotions are generally more intense with people who have the short version of this gene.  Also, there were clear biological effects, like the concentration of grey matter!

Further through the review the authors talk about how the environment could effect this specific genotype.  (On a side note, something that I learned was that the environment effects the expression, or transcription, of genes.)

Occurrences in a person’s life where emotional elimination was delayed, (so prolonged fear) will strengthen the brain circuits for that specific emotion.  If this excites certain circuits of the brain, it will strengthen the pathways that effect the 5-HTTLP gene.  And if that person has the short version of that gene, they are more susceptible to depression, anxiety, social anxiety, and certain tendencies with emotional regulation.  Really interesting stuff!

What amazes me is scientists are able to manipulate the genetic code of various animals, especially lab mice.  Which means, they probably have a working theory on how to do gene therapy with humans.  Now, it would be unethical to start changing genes and seeing the effects.  So if a general theory could be constructed on specific genes and how they effect complex behaviors, I believe certain conditions could literally be cured if the gene therapy could be propagated throughout the brain.  This is what I think they are striving towards, and maybe one day the knowledge would be there to create the best starting slate so to speak with genetics.  It would be solely up to the environment at that point.  And, through the manipulation of the environment, could condition humans in a specific way.  This would not necessarily be a good thing, but it is something cool to think about.

I have more to say, but I am going to call it quits.  I need to go to bed, I am pretty tired.  Anyways, hope you enjoy and thanks for reading!


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