New research sheds light on genetic basis of schizophrenia

April 18, 2022
New research sheds light on genetic basis of schizophrenia

The Psychiatric Genomics Consortium study, a large and diverse genetics study based in the UK, has identified large numbers of specific genes that influence schizophrenia. This comes from DNA analysis of over 320,000 people, which showed that genetic risk for schizophrenia is seen in genes concentrated in neurons in the brain, but not in any other tissue or brain cells.

Neuroscientists from Cardiff University, who led the study, said the newfound genetic associations would help in understanding the causes of this psychiatric disorder and developing new treatments.

Schizophrenia is a debilitating disorder characterised by hallucinations, delusions, and problems with thinking clearly. It starts in late adolescence or early adulthood and at any one time affects around one in 300 people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Of the myriad of genomic regions associated with schizophrenia, the neuroscientists identified 120 genes expressed in neurons likely to contribute to schizophrenia – abnormal neuron function is what causes symptoms.

A companion study involving many of the same neuroscientists and other researchers including those from Harvard and MIT, additionally found mutations in genes that, while very rare, have large effects on the small proportion of people that carry them. They also found overlapping genes and aspects of biology.

“Whilst people with schizophrenia can recover, many do not respond well to treatments, experience long-term problems with their mental and physical health, as well as impacts on relationships, education and work,” said Professor James Walters, Director of the MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics at Cardiff University.

“We hope the findings in this, and the companion studies, can be used to advance our understanding of the disorder and facilitate the development of radically new treatments. However, those processes are often not straightforward, and a lot of work by other neuroscientists is needed to translate the genetic findings into a detailed understanding of disease mechanisms.”

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