More than 100 genetic regions have been
found to be involved in schizophrenia, many of which were not previously linked
to the condition.
Researchers say the finding uncovers the
biological mechanisms causing the severe psychiatric disorder, and could lead
to new treatments being developed.
'We've been able to detect genetic risk
factors on a huge and unprecedented scale and shed new light on the biological
cause of the condition', said study leader Professor Michael O'Donovan, from Cardiff
University's MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics. The large
genome-wide association study was carried out by the Schizophrenia Working
Group of the Psychiatric Genomics
One hundred and eight locations (loci) in
the human genome were linked to schizophrenia, 83 of which were previously
unknown. The study, published in Nature, noted that many of the genes
were expressed in the brain, thus 'providing biological plausibility for the
findings'. Three-quarters of the loci coded for proteins, including the
dopamine receptor (which most current schizophrenia medications target), as
well other genes involved in brain signalling.
Some of the newly identified
schizophrenia-linked genes were involved in immunity, specifically the memory
cells that give us acquired immunity. The immune system had not previously been
associated with the development of schizophrenia.
'Detecting biological risk factors on this
scale shows that schizophrenia can be tackled by the same approaches that have
already transformed outcomes for people with other diseases. We now believe
they can also do so for schizophrenia which has, until now, been so poorly
understood', says Professor Sir Michael Owen, director of the MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric
Genetics and Genomics.
Researchers have long known that a person's
schizophrenia risk is influenced by their genes, because people whose parents
or siblings are diagnosed with schizophrenia are more likely to be diagnosed themselves.
Although genes are not the only factor in developing the disease, the study may
provide important insights into how to develop new drugs and diagnostic tools.
This is much needed as current treatments are not always effective.
'The key challenge now is to translate
these new insights into the biological basis of schizophrenia, into new
diagnostic tools and novel treatments for patients and finally put an end to
the 60-year-wait for new treatments for sufferers worldwide', explained