A recent study conducted by a group of hundreds of researchers across 45 countries analysing the genetic formation of schizophrenia has identified large numbers of specific genes that could play important roles in the psychiatric disorder. The study published in Nature journal on April 4 analysed DNA from 76,755 people with schizophrenia and 2,43,649 without the disorder to better understand the genes and biological processes underpinning the condition.
According to the World Health Organization, schizophrenia is a serious psychiatric disorder that often affects people in late adolescence or early adulthood and at any one time affects around one in 300 people worldwide. This disorder is characterised by significant impairments in the way reality is perceived and changes in behaviour related to limited speech, restricted experience and expression of emotions, inability to experience interest or pleasure, and social withdrawal, among others.
The Psychiatric Genomics Consortium study, led by scientists at Cardiff University, found a much larger number of genetic links to schizophrenia than ever before, in 287 different regions of the genome, the human body’s DNA blueprint.
According to the international team of researchers, this global study sheds the strongest light yet on the genetic basis of schizophrenia. For the study, the researchers included more than 7,000 people with either African American or Latino ancestries. This was done to ensure advances that come from genetic studies can benefit people beyond those of European ancestries. Their analysis has revealed that genetic risk for schizophrenia is seen in genes concentrated in brain cells called neurons, but not in any other tissue or cell type. This discovery suggests that it is the biological role of these cells that is crucial in schizophrenia.
The findings also suggest how it is the abnormal neuron function that affects many brain areas, which could explain diverse symptoms of schizophrenia including hallucinations, delusions and problems with thinking clearly. Co-lead author Professor Michael O’Donovan, from the Division of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neurosciences at Cardiff University, said in a statement, “Previous research has shown associations between schizophrenia and many anonymous DNA sequences, but rarely has it been possible to link the findings to specific genes.”
O’Donovan added that the present study not only vastly increased the number of those associations, but researchers have now been able to link many of them to specific genes, a necessary step in what remains a difficult journey towards understanding the causes of schizophrenia and identifying new treatments.