The enormous complexity of schizophrenia’s causes and symptoms has baffled scientists and doctors for decades. It is well understood that schizophrenia passes through families which suggests our genetic make-up plays an important role in whether we develop the disorder or not. However, researchers at Cardiff University have shown that a number of tiny genetic faults called mutations may cause schizophrenia in certain individuals. The hope is, that by identifying these specific mutations, it may result in new treatments.
Large gene mutations have already been suggested to cause schizophrenia in some people, but many patients do not have these DNA changes. Therefore, the team wanted to find out if smaller, unprovoked changes can also cause schizophrenia.
They looked at the DNA of a large number of schizophrenia sufferers and their parents to find any new mutations that occurred (i.e. their parents do not have it) that may have triggered the development of schizophrenia in these individuals.
Researchers found a number of different sections of DNA had mutated in a selection of the individuals studied. The mutated genes were responsible for producing faulty biological machinery that are vital for ensuring our brain can continue to develop and carry out important brain functions including, learning and memory, problems solving, and cognition. It is likely that this may explain at least some of the symptoms schizophrenia patients suffer. Interestingly, they also found these mutations can be seen in some patients with autism or learning difficulties, meaning potential treatments could be utilised across multiple psychological conditions.
More work needs to be done to determine exactly which aspects of brain development are being affected, but uncovering these secrets could provide an exciting avenue to explore for potential treatment options for many people worldwide.