The causes of mental illnesses are often obscured in a cloud of of environmental, genetic, and personal factors. Now, one study has uncovered a framework for the genetic portion of schizophrenia.
The study, published this week in the journal Nature Genetics, has identified 22 different locations in the human genome that are linked to schizophrenia. The sites were narrowed down using a genome-wide association study that looked at more than 59,000 people.
"If finding the causes of schizophrenia is like solving a jigsaw puzzle, then these new results give us the corners and some of the pieces on the edges," said Dr. Patrick Sullivan, lead author of the study and a professor of genetics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. "We've debated this for a century, and we are now zeroing in on answers.
"This study gives us the clearest picture to date of two different pathways that might be going wrong in people with schizophrenia. Now we need to concentrate our research very urgently on these two pathways in our quest to understand what causes this disabling mental illness."
According to Sullivan and his colleagues, one of the pathways involves genes that work together for functioning nerve cells. The other pathway involves over 13 genes that are known to be involved in the development of neurons in the brain.
"What's really exciting about this is that now we can use standard, off-the-shelf genomic technologies to help us fill in the missing pieces," said Sullivan. "We now have a clear and obvious path to getting a fairly complete understanding of the genetic part of schizophrenia. That wouldn't have been possible five years ago."
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