Scientists ID genetic trigger for schizophrenia

17 February 2008
Posted by Chris Smith.

An international team of scientists have tracked down a genetic cause of schizophrenia.Writing in PLoS Genetics, Oxford University's Sagiv Shifman and Hebrew University scientist Ariel Darvasi describe how they compared the DNA sequences of 1500 individuals, half of whom had schizophrenia, to home in on a gene strongly linked to the disease, but only in females.

Known as reelin, the gene controls how embryonic nerve cells migrate in the developing brain to take up their correct anatomical locations.  The same gene has also been linked in previous studies to other brain diseases, although not specifically conditions causing psychosis.

Why the gene should be linked to schizophrenia just amongst females is intriguing and may relate to differences in the levels of gene expression between men and women.  Females have been shown to have higher levels of reelin in certain parts of the nervous system, and the hormone testosterone has also been shown to reduce reelin activity in male birds.

Either way, the confirmation that this gene is involved in triggering schizophrenia, which is very common and affects 1 person in every 100, has major implications for future study of the condition and the development of future therapeutic strategies to combat the condition.  This is significant since the disease tends to appear after the age of 20, suggesting that early intervention with appropriate therapy may help to prevent it from becoming manifest in the first place.

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