Brain Science and Updates From the Field

New study finds schizophrenia is eight different disorders

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

New research indicates that schizophrenia is not a single disease, but a group of eight separate disorders.

In a study published in mid-September by the Washington University School of Medicine in The American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers found that schizophrenia, a mental disorder often characterized by delusional interpretations of reality, has identified gene variations that contribute to eight different classes of the disease.

In a study of more than 4,000 people with schizophrenia, researchers at Washington University at St. Louis revealed that certain disorders correspond with specific genetic makeups. For instance, while an individual with one genetic cluster may have auditory hallucinations, someone afflicted with disorganized speech will have different genetic features.

The discovery could have implications with how the disease is diagnosed, treated and understood, according to Dr. C. Robert Cloninger, co-author of the study.

“Genes don’t operate by themselves,” Cloninger said in a press release published by Washington University. “They function in concert much like an orchestra, and to understand how they’re working, you have to know not just who the members of the orchestra are but how they interact.”

The study analyzed the DNA of 4,200 people with schizophrenia as well as 3,800 without the affliction, finding that people with certain gene clusters are more predisposed to schizophrenia. Researchers grouped patients based on their symptoms—including hallucinations and delusions— and severity before examining their genetic profile. What researchers found were certain genetic features that made people more susceptible to developing schizophrenia.

For example, one genetic group carries a 95 percent of developing schizophrenia.

While genes are weak and unreliable associations of schizophrenia by themselves, interacting clusters of genes can be highly strong and credible indicators. This underlies the strong genetic component of schizophrenia, a reality that is illustrated by the fact that 80 percent of the risk for schizophrenia is known to be inherited.

In total, less than one percent of people develop schizophrenia.

In addition to the study, investigators also replicated their findings when analyzing two DNA databases of people with schizophrenia—indicating that identifying the gene variations that contribute to the illness could provide insight as to how best to diagnose and treat it.

The hope, Cloninger said, is that by recognizing the gene variations and the corresponding symptoms that may become present, doctors might be able to give more specific diagnoses and identify the most appropriate form of treatment at an early stage.

“People have been looking at genes to get a better handle on heart disease, hypertension and diabetes, and it’s been a real disappointment,” he said. “Most of the variability in the severity of disease has not been explained, but we were able to find that different sets of genetic variations were leading to distinct clinical syndromes. So I think this really could change the way people approach understanding the causes of complex diseases.”

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