International study confirms multiple genes contribute to schizophrenia risk

By better understanding the molecular and biological mechanisms involved with schizophrenia, scientists hope to use this new genetic information to one day develop and design drugs that are more efficacious and have fewer side effects.

International study confirms multiple genes contribute to schizophrenia risk click to enlarge Patrick F. Sullivan, MD, FRANZCP

Media contact: Tom Hughes, 919-966-6047, tahughes@unch.unc.edu

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Multiple genes contribute to risk for schizophrenia and appear to function in pathways related to transmission of signals in the brain and immunity, according to an international study that included University of North Carolina School of Medicine researchers.

Patrick F. Sullivan, MD, FRANZCP, professor in the department of genetics and director of psychiatric genomics at UNC, is a co-author of the study, which was published online first in the April issue of JAMA Psychiatry. The principal investigator of the study is Edwin van den Oord, PhD, professor and director of the Center for Biomarker Research and Personalized Medicine in the Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy.

“One of the most exciting areas in human genetics is the recent explosion in knowledge about the fundamental basis of schizophrenia,” Sullivan said.

This study had two main steps, Sullivan said. First, the authors conducted a combined analysis of the genomes of over 21,000 people around half of whom had schizophrenia and half normal controls. Second, they then took the best results and evaluated them in a new sample of more than 6,000 individuals from more than 1,800 families in which multiple persons had schizophrenia.

“The results showed impressive consistency across samples, with around 90 percent of the results congruent across samples. The genes that were notable implicated basic biological processes involved in the development of the brain and the ways in which neurons communicate with one another,” Sullivan said.

By better understanding the molecular and biological mechanisms involved with schizophrenia, scientists hope to use this new genetic information to one day develop and design drugs that are more efficacious and have fewer side effects.

Collaborating institutions included Copenhagen University Hospital in Roskilde, Denmark; Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden; School of Medicine at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom; St. James Hospital in Ireland; University of Aberdeen in the United Kingdom; University of California at Los Angeles; University College of London in the United Kingdom; University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom; University of Munich in Germany; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; University of Oslo and Oslo University Hospital in Norway; University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine; VA Boston Healthcare System; and Harvard Medical School.

The study was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health grants R01HG004240; R01MH078069; 1R01MH097283; and R01MH080403.

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