Genes tag schizophrenia risk

An international team has tracked down a group of genes to create a profile that could predict the risk of developing schizophrenia, a psychiatric disorder that affects around 1 in 100 people. The researchers used a technique called convergent functional genomics, designed to find genes and biomarkers for specific diseases by pulling together genetic data from human and animal studies.

Through this process, the team found a number of genes and used them to create a genetic risk prediction score (GRPS). This could pick out those patients in a group that had schizophrenia, predict an individual patient's risk of developing schizophrenia in around two-thirds of cases, and identify those likely to develop the disease early or late. The research was published in Molecular Psychiatry.

The researchers found an overlap with other psychiatric disorders, emphasizing that none of these is the result of a single gene. By looking at the biological pathways involved in schizophrenia, the researchers suggested that schizophrenia is likely to arise from a combination of genetics and environment, particularly stress.

"For first time we have a comprehensive list of the genes that have the best evidence for involvement in schizophrenia," said Alexander B. Niculescu III, associate professor of psychiatry and medical neuroscience at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

A test based on this genetic profile could be used to assess those people who are already at risk of schizophrenia because of their family histories, reducing worries for some and allowing others to be monitored closely and given support and treatment as needed. Niculescu added that a score indicating a higher risk of schizophrenia "doesn't determine your destiny. It just means that your neuronal connectivity is different, which could make you more creative, or more prone to illness."

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