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Blood vessel gene affects brain region

Medicine@Yale, 2008 - Nov Dec


Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which promotes blood vessel growth, has been a favorite target for scientists seeking to starve cancerous tumors of their blood supply or to help repair damaged hearts.

Recent research has indicated that this growth factor may also be crucial for the development and repair of the hippocampus, an area of the brain where memory is consolidated and which has been implicated in depression, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Now a new study, published online in August in the journal Biological Psychiatry, provides additional evidence linking VEGF to mental health.

School of Medicine researchers have found that a variant of the VEGF gene is associated with a reduction in the size of the hippocampus. This reduction in hippocampal volume suggests a possible cause of cognitive problems reported by some patients using anti-VEGF therapies for cancer and other diseases.

“As we identify these genes, we can develop new and more effective treatments that could target the related, specific molecular mechanisms,” says Hilary Blumberg, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry and diagnostic radiology and lead author of the new study.