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Scientists discover new genetic roots of schizophrenia

By Ryan Maass
Scientists discover new genetic roots of schizophrenia
UCLA researchers report they have found dozens of genes and two biological pathways that influence the onset of schizophrenia. Photo by Kim J, Matthews NL, Park S/Wikimedia Commons

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 20 (UPI) -- Scientists at the University of California Los Angeles have found dozens of genes and two biological pathways they say influence the onset of schizophrenia.

The genes were examined in a study published online in the journal Nature. The research team says their findings provide vital new information about the mental disorder, and has the potential to help develop better treatments for the disease in the future.

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"This work provides a road map for understanding how common genetic variation associated with a complex disease affects specific genes and pathways," lead researcher Dr. Daniel Geschwind said in a press release.

Prior to the experiment, investigators hypothesized schizophrenia could be traced to regulatory regions that target specific genes far away on the genome. To test their theory, the team utilized newly developed technology designed for genetic analysis called "chromosome conformation capture," which marks and maps the locations of where loops of chromosomal DNA make contact with one another.

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The experiment revealed that most of the more than 100 schizophrenia-linked sites identified in a 2014 study contact genes during brain development. The study also revealed additional genes not previously associated with schizophrenia.

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"There's a lot of clinical and pharmacologic data suggesting that changes in acetylcholine signaling in the brain can worsen schizophrenia symptoms, but until now there's been no genetic evidence that it can help cause the disorder," Geschwind added.

Schizophrenia is a mental illness characterized by vivid hallucinations, delusions, and cognitive problems. The disease has long been considered genetic, and affects over 50 million people around the world.

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