Thursday, April 26, 2012

Buried in Junk- is there a packrat gene?

[image credit: Lewin Lab, Max Delbruck center for Molecular Medicine, Berlin-Buch]

 After moving last month, I'm still unpacking. The house is littered with boxes and books and all sorts of things. I unfortunately possess a daunting amount of random crap. This stuff has quietly built up for years, and now the sheer volume could bury me many times over. It's like my belongings own me.

  Somehow I justify keeping all this junk. Sizing up a heinous leopard print skirt, I think to myself "Oh, I could wear it for halloween next year" and into the "keep" pile it goes. What's with that? Why is it so hard for some of us to part with inanimate objects? Is there a packrat gene?

One 2008 study from the OCD Clinical and Research Unit of L'Hospitalet de Llobregat, Barcelona, Spain suggests there just may be. The development and survival of your nervous system depends in part on proteins called neurotrophic factors. Mutations in the gene encoding one such neurotropic factor (neurotrophic tyrosine kinase receptor type 3 (NTRK3)) have been correlated with obsessive compulsive hoarding in patients. Findings suggest that the NTRK3 gene may be an interesting target for further research on the genetic basis of obsessive-compulsive hoarding.

 Granted, hoarding associated with OCD is on the extreme end of the spectrum. I do not imply that sentimentality over knickknacks is comparable to a potentially devastating mental disorder. However, if there is a genetic basis for extreme hoarding, it seems reasonable to suppose there may be a genetic basis for its more benign manifestations. That leopard print skirt doesn't inspire nostalgia. It's ugly as hell and I don't need it. Yet, I impulsively justify keeping it. I could chalk that up to a frugal upbringing or to prudence, but maybe, just maybe, it's hardwired.

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