While schizophrenia can often be the butt of tasteless jokes, in reality it is a devastating disease for victims and their families. While there is no biochemical test that can identify this disorder, scientists believe that it is caused by the interaction of both genetic and environmental factors.
A recent Science Daily piece recently examined the work of researchers at UCLA who have identified additional genes that confirm that the immune system may play a role in the development of the disorder. These researchers may also have identified genetic anomalies that disrupt the cellular pathways involved in brain development, memory and cognition, which are all markers of schizophrenia.
Roel Ophoff, the co-lead author and an assistant professor at the Center for Neurobehavioral Genetics at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, and colleagues found significant associations with genetic markers on the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC).
The MHC is a group of genes that control several aspects of the immune response. In addition to this finding, researchers also discovered additional variations in two other genes, NRGN and TC14. These variations are thought to point to perturbation of pathways involved in brain development, memory and cognition.
“This is another step forward in understanding the biological basis of this disorder, one that robs people of their lives,” said Ophoff in Science Daily. Ophoff holds a joint appointment at the University of Utrecht, The Netherlands. “It also shows the importance of worldwide collaborations for the study of schizophrenia genetics, because it allows us to do very large numbers of scans.”
Researchers and scientists have suspected for years that there was an association between schizophrenia and the immune system, but the evidence was lacking until now. In addition, impaired cognitive and memory functions are increasingly being recognized as core features of schizophrenia, which are currently poorly addressed by current medications.
“The three common genetic variants we describe, then, which we feel predisposes certain individuals to schizophrenia, have the potential to be translated into targets for the development of new and novel medications,” Ophoff said.