HK scientists’ discovery shed light on new treatment for brain disorders

HONG KONG — A study done by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) researchers provides mechanistic insights into the causes that lead to various neuropsychiatric disorders such as autism. The results were made public on Wednesday.

Led by Professor Mingjie Zhang, Kerry Holdings Professor of Science of the Division of Life Science at HKUST, the study team discovered that two abundant protein molecules in postsynaptic density, a compartment responsible for brain signal transmission, SynGAP and PSD-95, which are known to cause autism when genetic mutations alter the molecules’ interactions, can form an autonomously-assembled network structure.

The team found that the protein assembly can form stable “oil-like” droplets, and the formation of the droplets can be altered by the defects of the proteins identified in brains of autistic patients and thus change the synaptic signalling activity of neurons.

According to the researchers, the above discovery may explain the cause of autism, and will also inspire new ways to develop therapeutic methods for these diseases, including intellectual disorders and schizophrenia.

The research findings were published in scientific journal Cell on Aug. 25, 2016. PNA/Xinhua/