The proopiomelanocortin (POMC) molecule has been implicated in models of self-injurious behavior (SIB) in neurodevelopmental disorders, but it has never been specifically sequenced in search of base specific polymorphisms. The empirical focus of this preliminary study was to sequence the POMC gene in 11 children (mean age = 41.8 months, range = 12-60 months; 73% male) with clinical concerns regarding global developmental delay, 5 with reported self-injury. Genomic DNA was extracted from blood samples, and the POMC gene was amplified by specific oligonucleotide primers via polymerase chain reaction. The amplified gene products were sequenced by the University of Minnesota Genomic Center, and the results were analyzed using Sequencher software. A single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), 1130 C>T, was found in the 3′ untranslated region (UTR) of two samples (one of whom had SIB). The program TargetScanHuman was used to predict the function of this mutation. Variant c.1130 C<T was predicted to be located in the target site of two microRNAs (miRNAs; hsa-mir-3715 and hsa-mir-1909), and the variant allele T may result in an increased minimum free energy for the two miRNAs. Further work with much larger samples is needed to continue the investigation of POMC's possible function as a risk factor for the development of SIB in children with developmental delay/disability. The findings presented in this study show that the SNP found in the 3′ UTR could alter the binding of miRNAs to POMC 3′UTR, thus, increasing POMC expression and affecting several biological systems with high relevance to the biology of self-injury. There was a significant difference in β-endorphin levels between SIB (M = 169.25 pg/mL) and no SIB (M = 273.5 pg/mL, SD = 15.2) cases (p <.01). Intervention implications are tied to prior observations of individual differences among SIB responders and nonresponders to treatment with the opioid antagonist naltrexone. Stratifying individuals with SIB by POMC mutation status may provide a potential tailoring-like variable to guide the selection of who is more (or less) likely to respond to opiate antagonist treatment. Currently, opioid antagonistic treatment for SIB is empiric (trial and error).
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Supported, in part, by NICHD Grant No. 44763, 47201.
© 2018 Cambridge University Press.