September 2014

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Genetic Sites Tied to Schizophrenia

Researchers linked more than 100 genetic regions to schizophrenia, including 83 that were previously unrecognized. The findings may lead to new strategies for treating this serious brain disorder.

Schizophrenia affects about 1 in 100 people. It causes hallucinations, delusions, and other mental problems. The illness usually strikes during young adulthood and lasts a lifetime.

Schizophrenia tends to run in families, which suggests that genes might play a role. To learn more, NIH-funded scientists compared the genomesThe entire set of genetic instructions in your body. of about 37,000 people who have schizophrenia and 113,000 people who don’t.

Tiny variations in 108 genetic regions were more common in the schizophrenia group; 83 of these regions hadn’t been linked to schizophrenia before.

Among the connections were ties to the brain chemical dopamine, a known target for schizophrenia medications. Another was to immune systemProtects your body from invading germs and other microscopic threats. function, which had been suspected before. Links were also found with genes related to learning and memory, communication between brain cells, and other functions.

“These results underscore that genetic programming affects the brain in tiny, incremental ways that can increase the risk for developing schizophrenia,” says Dr. Thomas Lehner, an NIH expert in genetics and mental health.

The researchers note that the genetic sites they found don’t necessarily cause schizophrenia. They might be a sign of disease-causing variations nearby. Larger studies will help pinpoint the genetic factors that raise the risk for schizophrenia.