Fruit Flies Shed Light on Human Mental Disorders


Fruit Flies Used in Research to Help us Better Understand How Human Mental Disorders Develop

Research using fruit flies could help us better understand how human mental disorders develop. A team of scientists at Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory (TLL), led by Senior Principal Investigator Dr. Yu Fengwei, has discovered similarities between the changes in the neurons of fruit flies during the transition stage of larva to adult form, and those in the neurons of human brains during the stage from childhood to adulthood.

During adolescence, the human brain undergoes a dramatic decrease in neuronal connections in response to an increase in levels of thyroid hormones. The disruption of this process appears to trigger mental disorders including schizophrenia. Similarly, during metamorphosis, fruit flies experience tremendous reductions in their neuronal branches and connections as they transform. Recently, the team at TLL has discovered a key protein-degrading enzyme that facilitates this “brain-sculpting” and hopes this finding may lead to better treatment of human mental disorders in the future.

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About Mental Illness

Mental disorders are medical illnesses just like heart disease and diabetes. They are a disturbance of the brain that interferes with thinking, emotion and behaviour, which can affect daily activities. Research shows there are genetic and biological causes for most mental illness, and they can be treated effectively, especially with early detection. Symptoms of most mental illnesses are dysfunctionally exaggerated or distorted forms of the usual behaviours and feelings we experience.

About Mental Health in Singapore

According to the main findings of the Singapore Mental Health Study (SMHS) funded by the Singapore Millennium Foundation (SMF) and the Ministry of Health, which was published in 2010, the most common mental disorders in Singapore are depression, alcoholism and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). One in 17 people in Singapore have suffered from depression at some time in their lifetime, while Alcohol Abuse and OCD affects one in 32 and one in 33 people, respectively. The study also revealed that many people with these mental disorders have not sought help, and when they do, it is usually after a long time. It can take up to five years for someone with depression to seek help, nine years for OCD, and 14 years for alcohol abuse.

Did you know…

Depression has been called the “common cold of mental health problems”. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently ranked depression as the leading cause of morbidity in developing nations in the next century.