Scientists confirm genetics of schizophrenia

Source: CNN

By Susan Scutti, CNN

(CNN)Creating an effective treatment for schizophrenia requires a better understanding of its biology, of the genes that cause it. Using technology to illuminate chromosomes, scientists confirmed the underlying genetics of this mental disorder. The identified genetic disruptions occur at a crucial time in brain development.

The science team hopes its research, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, leads to new medications to treat the disorder.
More important, using a similar strategy could help researchers identify genes that lead to autism and other brain disorders, said Dr. Daniel Geschwind, principal investigator and a professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine.

Building on previous research

Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe and disabling mental disorder. Its symptoms may include delusions, thought disorder and hallucinations. Worldwide, schizophrenia affects 50 million people, many unable to function normally, as they are tormented with delusions and hallucinations. No cure exists, so doctors try to manage the symptoms with medications and therapy.
Importantly, schizophrenia often runs in families, so scientists have long believed it is a genetic disorder.
A 2014 study of people with the psychiatric disorder provided real evidence of this: The researchers found 108 distinct locations on the human genome linked to schizophrenia.
“That was a very important study,” said UCLA postdoctoral fellow Hyejung Won, first author of the new study.
Even though the 2014 research revealed parts of the genome causing schizophrenia, the results were still puzzling, Won said. These genetic loci (locations) were not in coding regions of the genome, where a genetic message is translated into proteins, which actively perform the work necessary to maintain cellular life — and our own human lives.
Instead, the loci were in regulatory regions, where genes act more or less like managers by increasing or decreasing a target gene’s activities. Another problem: No nearby targets could be found.
Searching for an explanation, Geschwind and his colleagues theorized that possible target genes may appear only far away. When the ropes of DNA underwent complex twisting and looping in order to fit into a chromosome, the regulatory genes and their as-yet-unknown targets might actually be close together.

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