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Identifying the causes of schizophrenia

31 July 2008

Alzheimer's helix

Scientists from the University have identified a risk gene associated with the mental health disorder schizophrenia.

An international group of researchers, led by Professors Michael O’Donovan, Nick Craddock, and Michael Owen from the School of Medicine examined DNA samples from over 7,000 individuals with schizophrenia, and almost 13,000 people without the disorder.

Their findings, which are reported in the journal Nature Genetics, show that DNA variants that are common in the population at large also contribute to some individuals developing schizophrenia.

The researchers believe the risk genes may offer advantages in the brain function of unaffected people, which is why they can be found in the population at large.

Among the genes reported one appears to act by switching other genes on and off.

Professor O’Donovan said: "We looked for common changes in the genetic code that were more frequent in people with schizophrenia than people without it. Among the genes we found, the evidence for the gene called ZNF804A was particularly strong. We now need to determine the identity of the genes that it can switch on and off. Finding out which ones are regulated should tell us a lot about what biochemical disturbances result in disease, and provide further vital clues into the origins of schizophrenia and hopefully, new ways of treating it."

Schizophrenia is a common brain disorder characterized by delusions, hallucinations, and changes in motivation and behaviour. It affects approximately one person in 100 at some point in their lives, usually in late adolescence or early adulthood.

The group also found that the same gene also influences risk of the major mood disorder known as bipolar disorder or manic-depression.

The study involved researchers from Ireland, Germany, Japan, China, Israel, America and Australia, and in the UK was funded by the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.

The group’s results are one of three breakthrough findings in schizophrenia research being published today in the journals Nature, and Nature Genetics, two of which involve the Cardiff team.

In the other paper, published in Nature, Cardiff scientists involved in The International Schizophrenia Consortium found that people with schizophrenia are more likely to have an excess of rare deletions and duplications of large segments of genetic material across their entire genome.

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