A new discovery may provide hope for those born with genetic disorders that lead to neurological diseases and other illnesses. University of San Diego researchers have found a pathway in the brain that protects it from environmental and genetic threats.
The findings, published in Molecular Cell, discuss the importance of messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) for the normal development of the brain and nervous system. The molecule mRNA reads genetic information and uses it to create proteins essential to life. One important aspect of mRNA is its "stop" feature, which tells the cellular material to stop reading the mRNA because it has produced a full-length protein. However, on some mRNA molecules, the "stop" comes too early, resulting in a shorter-than-normal protein that can potentially be toxic to cells. To prevent this problem, many cells use what is called "nonsense-mediated mRNA decay" (NMD), which degrades bad mRNAs with early stop signals.
Researchers found that when NMD does not work properly, the results can be one of several neurological conditions, including autism, mental retardation, attention deficit disorder, and schizophrenia. These researchers believe that this is due to a build up of short proteins in the brain. Although the NMD pathway is vulnerable to environmental toxins and genetic mutations, cells appear to have evolved in a way that helps them overcome attacks. If a molecule in the NMD pathway is injured, a cell can send in "reinforcement" molecules.
While short proteins are less desirable than long ones, they are still functional. Scientists hope to come up with a process that can inhibit the NMD so that these proteins can be allowed to function, limiting many of the problems associated with mental disorders. The problem of how to inhibit NMD without overloading the brain with too many short proteins still needs to be considered. However, in the future, it could be possible to produce selective NMD inhibition therapy.
In the meantime, people with mental disorders have more limited options. If your child has a disorder that you believe may be linked to environmental toxin exposure in the womb, you have the option of filing a toxic tort lawsuit. First, you should be confident that the source of your child's birth defect really is a specific environmental source, such as herbicide at a nearby farm or a local power plant. Once you have strong evidence that an environmental source at fault, you would argue that the local power plant was negligent because it owed you a general duty to follow the reasonable standards of the industry, it breached the duty by acting unreasonably (such as by ignoring certain health and safety rules), the breach caused you an injury, and you suffered damage in the form of your child's birth defect. Modern science may one day help us heal from these types of situations, but until then, you can try to collect damages (a money award) or seek an injunction that would prevent the offender from being able to continue until the problem was corrected.