According to the World Health Organization (WHO), schizophrenia is a psychiatric disorder that impacts one in 300 people globally. The condition mainly starts to appear in late adolescence and early adulthood, causing a wide range of symptoms like delusions, hallucinations, abnormal motor behavior, and social withdrawal.
In an international effort across 45 countries, researchers analyzed DNA from 76,755 people with schizophrenia, making the paper the world’s largest genome-wide association study focused on this condition. Large genomic studies such as this allow scientists to understand which genes influence a condition and therefore possible therapeutic targets.
A more inclusive global study
Historically, schizophrenia studies have overwhelmingly focused on people of European ancestry, leaving out a large majority of the world and vital information that could lead to a deeper understanding of the disease. With this in mind, the team ensured more than 7,000 people with African or Latino ancestry were included in the cohort of participants.
What did the study find?
The study obtained the largest number of genetic links associated with schizophrenia ever recorded, spotting associated markers in 287 different regions of the genome.
Interestingly, these regions are all associated with neurons, a fundamental type of brain cell which transforms and relays electrical signals. These results indicate that the function of neurons plays a key role in the disease. The neurons impacted seem to be scattered all over the structure of the brain, explaining its wide range of symptoms.
“Previous research has shown associations between schizophrenia and many anonymous DNA sequences, but rarely has it been possible to link the findings to specific genes,” said co-lead author Professor Michael O’Donovan from Cardiff University.
They continued: “The present study not only vastly increased the number of those associations, but we have now been able to link many of them to specific genes, a necessary step in what remains a difficult journey towards understanding the causes of this disorder and identifying new treatments.”
One step closer to successful treatment
This work is extremely important for the significant amount of the population impacted by this disorder. Many people with schizophrenia do not respond well to currently available treatments and experience long-term physical and mental health problems. This can take a toll on their education, work, and relationships.
Hopefully, the study can bring the world one step closer to the successful treatment of schizophrenia. The team is currently expanding their work to large sample size with a more diverse range of participants to keep this building their library of information.
Source study: Nature – Mapping genomic loci implicates genes and synaptic biology in schizophrenia