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    Genes linked to schizophrenia

    23.07.2014 In the largest genomic study published on any psychiatric disorder so far, researchers have indentified 83 new locations in the human genome associated with the risk of developing schizophrenia.

    The discovery, which brings the total number of genetic risk factors linked to schizophrenia to 108, could aid the understanding of the biological mechanisms behind the disorder and could at some point even lead to new treatments. The study was published in Nature (doi:10.1038/nature13595) and is the result of the work of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, the largest consortium and the largest biological experiment in the history of psychiatry. The international, multi-institutional collaboration was founded in 2007 to conduct broad-scale analyses of genetic data for psychiatric disease. The results stem from the Schizophrenia Working Group consisting of over 300 scientists in 35 countries. Michael O’Donovan from Cardiff University, who led the study, commented: “We’ve been able to detect genetic risk factors on a huge and unprecedented scale and shed new light on the biological cause of the condition.”

    In one of the genetic locations that were found to be associated with schizophrenia, there is one for which the specific mutation responsible has been identified. People with the GRM3 gene variant are around 2 to 3 times more likely to develop schizophrenia or alcohol dependence, reports a related paper published in Psychiatric Genetics (doi: 10.1097/YPG.0000000000000050). The GRM3 gene is thought to be important in brain signalling and occurs in around one out of 200 people. David Curtis from the University College London, co-author on both papers, said: “We could be looking at the next big drug target for treating mental illness.”

    O’Donovan now hopes the wealth of new findings will help kick-start the search for new schizophrenia treatments. However, he warned that tangible results will take time: “Although we are very excited by the findings, it is important not to overstate or misinterpret them. We are still in the early days of trying to understand what causes the disease, however collaborations like this and new genetic tools mean we find ourselves in a unique position. Reaping the full benefits of this research for treatment will be a medium to long game.”

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