Researchers from the University of Aberdeen and the University of Edinburgh have discovered new genes linked to schizophrenia.
They identified four mutated gene regions that may be used to make new drugs to treat this illness. The scientists state their findings in the July 30 issue of Nature.
Schizophrenia, which affects about one in every 100 people, is a mental disorder that often gives abnormalities in the perception of reality. Affecting about 1.1 percent of the U.S. population ages 18 and older, schizophrenia is a chronic and severe brain disorder.
"Lots more work needs to be done, but what these discoveries will do is help us start to classify the sub-types of the illness so that individualised, targeted medicine is possible in the future," said Professor St Clair, Chair in Mental Health at the University of Aberdeen, and an author on both papers.
"At the moment a broad range of anti-psychotic drugs are used to treat schizophrenia, but because people respond to drugs in different ways, treatments are largely trial and error and often involve unpleasant side effects."
St. Clair also said that this research may make it possible to identify people at risk for mental illness before it starts.
The scientists found that four mutations - 15q13, 1q21, 15q11 and 22q11 - occurred more often in those with schizophrenia. They studied the genes of around 3,000 - 5,000 patients from all over the world, as well as the same number of controls.
Their research included evidence that:
- Mutations are occurring at a far higher rate than thought possible – around one in every 10,000 people rather than one in every 10 million. This goes some way to explaining why psychological disorders such as schizophrenia can appear 'out of the blue' in some families.
- The mutations were found to be present in some individuals with schizophrenia as well as those with autism and a range of other psychological disorders, suggesting that the two conditions are not as separate as previously thought.
- The mutations leave the human population as quickly as they appear, i.e. they are selected against. This is thought to be partly because individuals with autism and schizophrenia have few children but may also be due to siblings of the mentally ill also failing to reproduce.
The scientists have said that much more work is needed to be done on this, but they feel they are moving in the right direction in order to take control of this mental illness that affects so many.
Source: The University of Edinburgh