In a new study, researchers have implicated 10 new genes in the development of schizophrenia using a method called whole-exome sequencing, the analysis of the portion of DNA that codes for proteins.
The research was conducted by a global consortium of schizophrenia research teams.
Schizophrenia is a severe psychiatric disorder, the risk of which can be dramatically increased by the disruption of certain protein-coding genes.
Since these changes are so strongly selected against in every generation, they are rare in the population and researchers need a very large sample size to study them with enough statistical power to draw robust conclusions.
Drug development for schizophrenia has had limited progress in the last 50 years, but in the last decade, research has started to make genetic discoveries that help understand the mechanisms underlying the disorder.
As part of the Schizophrenia Exome Sequencing Meta-Analysis Consortium, the team analyzed the genomes of 25,000 people with schizophrenia and 100,000 people without disease from five continental populations.
The main aim was to understand the genetic causes of schizophrenia and motivate the development of new therapeutics.
The team says they were able to identify 10 genes that when disrupted, dramatically increase risk for schizophrenia
Two of the 10 genes coded for glutamate receptors, a type of protein known to be crucial in communication among brain cells.
By pinpointing glutamate receptors as genetically involved in disease, this finding strongly suggests that decreased function of these receptors drives disease symptoms and that this system can potentially be a target for future therapies.
Furthermore, the analyses showed that there are many more such genes; the search is just beginning.
The team also says that they found shared genetic connections with neurodevelopmental delay and autism.
By comparing these conditions, the researchers hope to find how specific the genes they found are to schizophrenia, and what their wider biological effects are.
The lead author of the study is Tarjinder Singh, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow.
The study was presented as a featured plenary presentation at the American Society of Human Genetics 2019 Annual Meeting.
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