Research Reveals Important Genetic Component Of Schizophrenia

It's known that schizophrenia can run in families, but the search for a genetic link has proven difficult. Analyzing DNA is slow, meticulous work, and researchers have spent years untangling the role of genes in the disease (via Science). Now, researchers may have unlocked a huge clue.

Schizophrenia is a complex brain disorder, but it shouldn't be feared (via American Psychiatric Association). Less than 1% of Americans are affected by it, with similar rates around the world. People with schizophrenia may have episodes where they have trouble distinguishing between what is real and what isn't. When the disease is active, symptoms include hallucinations, paranoia, distorted beliefs, the inability to express emotion or find pleasure, confused thinking and speech, and abnormal movements and behaviors. Symptoms usually first appear in early adulthood, though this is often earlier for men than women. Antipsychotic medications can be very effective, enabling those with the disease to live productive and rewarding lives. People with schizophrenia may be more prone to homelessness or hospitalization due to limited mental health resources, but they are no more dangerous or violent than anyone in the general population.

A groundbreaking genetic discovery

Scientists have known that risk factors for schizophrenia include genetics, environmental factors, and life stressors, but a new study published in Science has found a number of key genes that greatly increase the likelihood of developing the disease. A global consortium called Schizophrenia Exome Sequencing Meta-Analysis examined the DNA that codes for proteins in 24,000 people with schizophrenia and 97,000 people without it. They discovered 10 genes that, when mutated, promote schizophrenia. People have 2 copies of all genes, and if both copies of any of these 10 genes have a disabling variant, their risk of developing schizophrenia is increased by an enormous 4 to 50 times.

This important research shows that genes do indeed play a large role in our risk for schizophrenia. Only 1 of these 10 genes had been previously identified, so this research is a breakthrough in better understanding schizophrenia. Tarjinder Singh, the lead author of the study, said that this discovery could lead to advances in the diagnosis and treatment of the disease (via theĀ Washington Post).