Study Uncovers Dozens of New Potential Genetic Markers For Schizophrenia

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DNA-molecule2As researchers began to explore genetic markers which could be reliably linked to an increased risk for schizophrenia, the process was slow and up until recently only a handful of markers had been found. That all changed last month, when a groundbreaking, genome-wide analysis identified 108 risk loci for the disorder. Nearly all of them were new.

The study, published on July 21 in Nature, found 83 previously unidentified genetic loci associated with schizophrenia through an unprecedented collaborative data sharing effort.

The biggest hope from these studies are to one day predict schizophrenia and manage it before it manifests, but deputy director of NIMH, Philip Wang, M.D., says there is still much work to be done before we reach that point. “In terms of individual-level prediction, whether a person will or won’t get the disease, we are not there yet,” he explained. “Though we uncovered a large number of genetic variants, they only account for a small percentage of someone’s schizophrenia risk.

“But we are getting to the point where we can begin to act on our genetic findings,” Wang added, noting the PGC study did develop risk profile scores by adding up the various genetic signals and demonstrated that people in the highest category had a 20-fold increased schizophrenia risk.

While there is the potential to greatly improve the identification of schizophrenia through this type of research, the more pertinent information relates to the potential to uncover drug targets. About three-quarters of the loci found in the latest study were adjacent to or directly on protein-encoding genes. “Finding a strong association for the D2 dopamine receptor, which is the target of antipsychotics, was particularly reassuring, as it shows that we are dealing with biologically important variants.” said Wang.

“This coming together of individuals and institutions is happening across the research landscape of mental health, so we will be seeing more variants for schizophrenia and other psychiatric conditions on the horizon. And as we progress, I think we will find more risk factors in the noncoding areas of the genome that regulate gene expression, which will open up even more mechanisms underlying this disease.”

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