Scientists are closer to effective treatments for schizophrenia after a global study published in Nature uncovered more than 100 locations across the human genome that are strongly associated with genetic predisposition to schizophrenia.
In the world’s largest molecular genetic study into a psychiatric disorder, The University of Queensland partnered with more than 200 other organisations in the Schizophrenia Working Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium (PGC), including researchers from QBI, the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research (QCMHR), and the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, Department of Psychiatry.
QBI and QCMHR researcher Professor Bryan Mowry said the study found 108 locations—83 of which were previously unidentified—that form the genetic underpinnings of schizophrenia.
“This provides the potential for understanding the causes of the illness and for discovering new treatments,” he said.
He said these locations were not randomly distributed across the genome but converged upon genes that were expressed in certain tissues, particularly the brain and in tissues with important immune functions.
“These are very exciting findings that will no doubt bring hope to the quarter of a million Australians who have schizophrenia and to their families and carers,” Professor Mowry said.
Schizophrenia is a highly-inheritable, debilitating psychiatric disorder that affects about one in every 100 people worldwide, and is characterised by hallucinations, disturbed beliefs and a breakdown of thought processes.
It is ranked ninth in the global burden of illness and is estimated to cost Australian society $5 billion a year.
Using DNA samples from 36,989 schizophrenia patients, researchers used a genome-wide association study to find genetic variations between the patients and 113,075 control samples.
“A huge international effort was made to increase sample size, because, although previous studies had indicated a small number of genetic signals, sample sizes weren’t large enough to confirm definite genetic associations,” Professor Mowry said.
“The next steps will involve determining the functional basis of these genetic signals and how they interact together to cause illness, and then develop new therapeutic interventions.”
The paper is entitled “Biological Insights From 108 Schizophrenia-Associated Genetic Loci”.