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The imprinted brain: how genes set the balance between autism and psychosis

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The imprinted brain theory proposes that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) represents a paternal bias in the expression of imprinted genes. This is reflected in a preference for mechanistic cognition and in the corresponding mentalistic deficits symptomatic of ASD. Psychotic spectrum disorder (PSD) would correspondingly result from an imbalance in favor of maternal and/or X-chromosome gene expression. If differences in gene expression were reflected locally in the human brain as mouse models and other evidence suggests they are, ASD would represent not so much an extreme male brain as an extreme paternal one, with PSD correspondingly representing an extreme maternal brain. To the extent that copy number variation resembles imprinting and aneuploidy in nullifying or multiplying the expression of particular genes, it has been found to conform to the diametric model of mental illness peculiar to the imprinted brain theory. The fact that nongenetic factors such as nutrition in pregnancy can mimic and/or interact with imprinted gene expression suggests that the theory might even be able to explain the notable effect of maternal starvation on the risk of PSD -not to mention the autism epidemic of modern affluent societies. Finally, the theory suggests that normality represents balanced cognition, and that genius is an extraordinary extension of cognitive configuration in both mentalistic and mechanistic directions. Were it to be proven correct, the imprinted brain theory would represent one of the biggest single advances in our understanding of the mind and of mental illness that has ever taken place, and would revolutionize psychiatric diagnosis, prevention and treatment - not to mention our understanding of epigenomics.

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