New study identifies high-risk genes for schizophrenia and potential axes for treatment too.
Welcome to the first edition of Science Bites, our brand new section dedicated to breaking down exciting research into digestible morsels. This week, we look at new evidence linking genetics and schizophrenia.
This paper was selected by our director of the genetics department for the quality of research and its potential to transform medical understanding and genetic analysis techniques.
Scientific papers are published in costly journals that are rarely consulted by the masses because we have reached such deep levels of complexity in these fields.
So we’ve engaged the help of our Heads of Microbiome Research and Genetics to share interesting, reliable and innovative findings in their respective fields for Science Bites.
We’ll break down the subject at hand with some definitions, review the current state of evidence and explain why these findings are worthy of your interest.
104 high-risk genes for schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a severe psychiatric disorder that causes the patient to perceive reality abnormally with delusions and hallucinations. It also interferes with a person’s ability to manage emotions, make decisions and organise their thoughts.
Despite the title of this article, discovering high-risk genes for disease is not all doom and gloom. According to this study published in Nature Neuroscience by Q. Wang et al., there are 104 high-risk genes for schizophrenia and this creates new opportunities for future treatment.
To get these results, this team of researchers from the Vanderbilt University Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics and the Vanderbilt Genetics Institute developed special computational framework that allows them to model gene activity from a broader perspective. This new framework may also open new doors in genetic research into human health and disease.
This study provides more evidence in an ongoing debate whether schizophrenia is a developmental or degenerative disorder. As it stands, the medical community can't agree if this psychiatric disorder is :
- neurodevelopmental, the consequence of abnormal brain development that starts in the womb.
- neurodegenerative: triggered by something that causes a decline in brain health later in life.
The study's findings indicate that schizophrenia is more likely to be developmental disorder, and suggest that drugs could be developed to address the disease before it becomes symptomatic.
Paving the way for better treatment
The Vanderbilt team identified high-risk genes that are active in other diseases, for which drugs already exist. And they believe that some of these drugs could be repurposed to help treat schizophrenia.
This is relevant because schizophrenia emerges over time, starting with behavioural changes with the potential to grow into delusion and psychotic episodes.
In particular, psychotic episodes damage the cellular pathways in the brain that are used by antipsychotic drugs: the more episodes a patient experiences, the less responsive they are to this medication.
If treatment can be developed to slow the progression and therefore limit the emergence and/or frequency of psychotic episodes, then it can circumvent the risk of reduced responsiveness to antipsychotic medication.
And so, 104 high-risk genes may seem like a lot, but it's a move in the right direction to identify and treat a serious illness.
By using innovative strategies to identify the broader influence of genes, loci and gene networks on schizophrenia, these researchers have created opportunities for more effective diagnosis, treatment and assessment of genetic factors in disease emergence.
1. 104 high-risk genes have been identified for schizophrenia.
2. This discovery opens the way for novel drug treatments.
3. Their computational framework can advance genetic disease research.