Molecular Bases of Psychic Talent | Alejandro Álvarez

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The idea that psychic abilities (or psi) run in families has been a little-explored topic within the field of parapsychology. Several experimental studies evaluating psi-performance of different family members, as well as surveys and pedigree analyses suggest that this might be the case. However, the first molecular evidence supporting this idea appeared a few months ago. From a carefully selected sample of psychic individuals, DNA was obtained and compared with that of a control group (non-psychics). Though no significant differences were found in coding regions, a consistent single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) was found in one intron of the TNRC 18 gene (Wahbeh et al. 2021). This gene encodes a massive protein (around 10 times the size of the average protein) whose function and structure has not been properly elucidated yet. TNRC18 protein expresses in many organs and in different brain regions and has nine isoforms.

The aim of this work is to delve into the functional and structural aspects of the TNRC18 gene product and try to determine if it is likely for it to be somehow involved in psychic function. In addition, I investigate if there is a phylogenetic pattern regarding TNRC18 and evolutionary-related proteins (homologs)

The sequence of human TNRC18 protein was used as a query in the phmmer program (Saripella et al. 2016), which searches for similar proteins in completely sequenced genomes from the Uniprot database, which is one of the main databases in which properly curated complete genomes are stored. The cutoff value was 10e-05. Secondary structure was then predicted with GOR4 (Kouza et al. 2017) and Phyre2 (Kelley et al. 2015) programs. These employ different algorithms that analyze amino acid composition of proteins to try to infer the possible folding of the protein sequence. Phyre2 was also used to model possible protein domains found in the homologous search with phmmer. To provide additional support, the IUPred2A program (Mészáros et al. 2018) was used to predict disordered regions and further confirm the secondary and tertiary structure analyses. Global and local alignments using the Needle and WATER programs, respectively, from the EMBOSS suite (Rice et al. 2000) were performed to corroborate the presence and position of identified domains.

The TNRC18 protein is widely distributed along the vertebrate clade, but also in some arthropods and one flat worm. Additionally, homologs were found in other eukaryotes, mainly plants. Three functional domains for the TNRC18 protein were identified: bromo-adjacent homology (BAH), Tudor, and Hoxb9. Prediction of disordered regions confirmed the presence of those domains and revealed that most of the protein structure might lack a defined secondary structure (i.e., may be disordered).

All protein domains identified in TNRC18 are somehow involved in transcriptional regulation (Callebaut et al. 1999; Lu & Wang, 2013; Prévôt et al. 2000). This may suggest that the TNRC18 gene alone might not be the only one responsible for psi development, but that it may have a pivotal role as part of a transcriptional regulatory network. This kind of networks comprise different regulatory proteins and their interactions with target genes and have been found to be especially important Molecular Bases of Psychic Talent 2 SSE-PA Connections 2021: A combined meeting of the Society for Scientific Exploration and the Parapsychological Association in several brain-associated aspects, such as behavior (Sinha et al. 2020) and brain disorders (Pearl et al. 2019).

Although Wahbeh et al. (2021) found only one polymorphism in an intronic sequence of the TNRC18 gene, this could have important implications in the expression of the gene product. Variation within intronic regions can result in the expression of different protein isoforms (Tress et al. 2007; Mucaki et al. 2020), even if such variation is due to a unique SNP (Ueffing et al. 2009; Jakubauskiene et al. 2012). If the TNRC18 gene is indeed associated with psi, it is likely that this is also the case in different organisms possessing this gene. Its presence in all main vertebrate clades supports the idea that psi may not be an exclusively human trait, but that it might be present at least in other animals (Dutton & Williams, 2009). Further phylogenetic analyses that include distantly related homologs could help to elucidate the evolutionary path of the TNRC18 gene. Combining this with more robust genetic studies that follow the line of Wahbeh et al. (2021) could also give us a wider picture of the molecular basis of psychic functioning.

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Published on May 13, 2022

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