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Schizophrenia gene breakthrough

31st October 2006

19052006_lonelyman1.jpgUK researchers believe they have found a genetic link for the symptoms of schizophrenia.

A team at Edinburgh University followed 200 people at high risk of the condition for a decade, and found those carrying a variant of a gene called neuregulin had a higher chance of developing psychotic symptoms.

Schizophrenia affects one in 100 people and is already known to run in families, but experts say very little is known about why it develops. The volunteers were chosen because they had two or more relatives with the condition, and were aged between 16 and 25 – the age when symptoms are most likely to develop.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, could now pave the way to new treatments.

The scientists carried out interviews, performed brain scans, psychological tests and genetic analysis and made a number of discoveries. They found those who carried a variation of the neuregulin gene were much more likely to develop psychotic symptoms associated with schizophrenia, such as paranoia or hearing voices.

Brain scans on those carrying the variant gene were also more likely to show abnormal brain activity in the frontal and temporal regions - areas often associated with schizophrenia.

Other experts say the research is potentially groundbreaking, but a larger study would now need to be carried out to confirm the findings.

Previous studies have revealed the gene variant is involved with switching on and off a gene associated with brain development, while a range of other studies have found 10 possible schizophrenia-related genes.

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