- A Denisovan gene makes people susceptible to psychological problems
- The gene was passed on to humans in Asia about 60,000 years ago
- READ MORE: DNA from Denisovans can be found in humans today
Interbreeding with a now-extinct subspecies they encountered in Asia about 60,000 years ago could be the cause of depression, according to a new study.
Researchers led by Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona discovered a gene variant that disappears upon interbreeding with an archaic human, Denisovan, and is involved in zinc regulation, releasing lower levels.
Zinc plays a role in modulating brain activity, which can affect mood and behavior, and deficiency has been observed in individuals with mental disorders.
Scientists said the SLC30A9 gene is the most widespread Denisovan genetic heritage discovered so far – it began in Asia and has spread to European and Native American populations.
Researchers led by Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona discovered a gene variant that disappears upon interbreeding with an archaic human, Denisovan, and is involved in zinc regulation, releasing lower levels
Elena Bosch, IBE principal investigator and co-leader of the study, and her team identified an adaptive variant among current human populations in a region of our genome that bears striking similarity to the genome of an extinct ancestral population: Denisovans.
“We found that this mutation certainly has an impact on the transport of zinc within the cell,” said Bosch.
Although the researchers examined the Neanderthal heritage, they found that the mutation was not present in the population.
Rubén Vicente, principal investigator of MELIS-UPF, then joined the team to analyze the movement of intracellular zinc.
“Elena contacted me because her team had observed a change in an amino acid in a zinc transporter that was now very different between populations in Africa and Asia,” Vicente said.
The mutation helped the Denisovans cope with the cold, hostile climate that once devastated Asia
“From then on we started asking ourselves questions and looking for answers.”
His lab determined that the observed variant causes a new balance of zinc within the cell, promoting a change in metabolism.
This led them to realize that the mutation helped Denisovans cope with the cold, hostile climate that once ravaged Asia.
Zinc transport is also involved in the excitability of the nervous system and plays a role in human mental balance and health.
The team suggests that the variant of this zinc transporter, which is expressed in all tissues of the body, is associated with a greater predisposition to suffering from some psychiatric disorders.
These include anorexia nervosa, hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia.