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Dog Gene For OCD Could Aid Humans

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By Carolyn Y. Johnson For Boston.com

Scientists scouring the genome to better understand complex human diseases are looking to an unlikely ally for guidance: our pets.

Dogs have been an integral part of human life for centuries. It is precisely because of that intertwined history that dogs are a potentially powerful tool for researchers seeking the genetic roots of everything from psychiatric disorders to cancer – just two of the ailments that are similar in both humans and dogs.

Last month, scientists studying Doberman pinschers with a compulsive behavior disorder similar to human obsessive-compulsive disorder found a gene associated with the condition. The genetic hit is now being followed by other researchers, who are studying the same gene in human patients with OCD, in hopes the clue from man’s best friend may help explain the disease in people.

“This is exactly where we were hoping to get to,’’ said Elinor Karlsson, a postdoctoral fellow at the Broad Institute, a genetics research center in Cambridge, and coauthor of a paper on the subject. “This is taking a disease that people have had a lot of trouble working with in humans, that seems to be a multigenic and complex psychiatric disease, and using a dog breed to look at something completely new about that disease – something we wouldn’t be able to find in any other species.’’

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