Genes Yield Clues to Schizophrenia's Roots. (Psychotic Biology)

Article excerpt

Scientists have identified two genes that, in certain molecular guises, may contribute to schizophrenia by disrupting transmission of a crucial chemical messenger in the brain.

While the presence of each gene variant by itself makes it more likely that a person will develop this severe mental disorder, this risk is greatly magnified when the two occur together, according to a team led by geneticist Daniel Cohen of the biotechnology firm Genset S.A. in Evry, France.

Both genes produce proteins that influence the activity of NMDA receptors, a class of molecular docking stations on brain cells. Since 1996, researchers have proposed that disturbances of these receptors for the neurotransmitter glutamate contribute to schizophrenia symptoms, including confused thinking and hallucinations.

"The association of both [genes] with schizophrenia points to the involvement of this NMDA-receptor regulation pathway," Cohen says. "The same pathway may influence psychotic problems in other diagnoses, such as bipolar disorder."

The new report appears in an upcoming Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

If the findings hold up, people who inherit either or both of the critical gene versions still aren't doomed to develop schizophrenia, Cohen cautions. Further research is needed to identify other genes, as well as environmental factors, that influence the same NMDA-receptor pathway, he says.

Cohen's team obtained DNA from about 200 people with schizophrenia and about the same number who had no past or current psychiatric disorders living in Quebec, Canada, and from a similar sample in Moscow, Russia. …