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Key findings

International study involving VA yields new insight on schizophrenia genes

July 30, 2014

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DNA samples from more than 150,000 study volunteers provided researchers—including a team at the Washington, DC, VA Medical Center—with new clues on the genes that raise the risk of schizophrenia. (Photo by Frank Curran)

DNA samples from more than 150,000 study volunteers provided researchers—including a team at the Washington, DC, VA Medical Center—with new clues on the genes that raise the risk of schizophrenia. (Photo by Frank Curran)

In one of the largest and most definitive studies yet of the genetics of psychiatric illness, researchers have identified 108 genetic locations where the DNA of people with schizophrenia tends to differ from those without the disease. About three-quarters of the genetic locations identified in the study were not previously reported.

The study, published in the July 2014 issue of Nature, was conducted by the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium. The group is a collaboration of more than 80 institutions worldwide, including the Washington, DC, VA Medical Center.

Coauthor Dr. Ayman H. Fanous of VA said the study could eventually lead to new ways to diagnose and treat the disease, which affects about 1 percent of adults worldwide and some 100,000 VA patients.

"Because of major advances in genomics technology, we can now, for the first time, have a detailed picture of the genes and gene groups that increase the risk of schizophrenia," says Fanous.

Fanous is chief of the Psychiatric Genetics Research Program at the Washington, DC, VAMC and an associate professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine.

The study analyzed DNA from nearly 37,000 people in Europe and Asia with schizophrenia and more than 113,000 without the disease. Most of the genes implicated in the study are expressed in the brain. Others, though, appear to play a role in the body's immune system. The authors say the findings support a "speculated link between the immune system and schizophrenia."

While schizophrenia has long been known to run in families, it has only been in the last few years that scientists have reliably identified specific genetic changes linked to the disease. Researchers say most of these changes, or mutations, have very small effects on their own, but they can act together to significantly increase risk.


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