Gene MEGF10 Linked to Schizophrenia
A new genetic link to schizophrenia has been identified by an international team of researchers. Multiple epidermal growth factor-like domains 10 or MEGF10, which influences the development of skin cells, may appear a curious contender in the quest for a genetic explanation for schizophrenia, but this is exactly what recent research has found. Lead author of the study, Xiangning Chen, regards the gene as, “likely [to be] involved in schizophrenia”, due to the consistent results they have found when set against the established standards for the replication of studies thought to have a disease association.
John H. Krystal, MD, editor of Biological Psychiatry in which the study is published, is quoted on the Science Daily website as saying:
“ . . one clue may be that nerve cells and skin cells are derived from the same type of primitive cells early in the development of the embryo. Another link may be that features of epidermal development, such as the development of fingerprints, are abnormal in schizophrenia”.
The study involved a comparison of schizophrenic and healthy volunteers, who acted as controls. The MEGF10 gene was found to be much more common in the brains of people with schizophrenia. Furthermore, it is associated with heritable risk for schizophrenia in family-based and case-control studies.
MEGF10 is directly associated with a process known as apoptosis. Apoptosis refers to the natural process of cell self-destruction, which is genetically determined. Apoptosis is a perfectly normal biological function in which the body rids itself of damaged, superfluous or unwanted cells. Any interruption of the process can result in uncontrolled cell growth.
Dysfunctional apoptotic processes are implicated in a variety of diseases. These diseases include cancer, childhood spinal muscular atrophy, psoriasis, heart disease, stroke and various neurological diseases. In his research paper, Chen states that an association between dysfunctional apoptosis and schizophrenia has been suspected for some time but until now there has been no evidence to link the two together.
This isn’t the first time that a particular gene has been put forward as candidate to help explain the genetic basis of schizophrenia. However, as Chan points out, “ in subsequent replication studies, every one of these promising candidate genes has some inconsistencies or conflicting reports”. In this study it is the stability of the findings that makes the results so interesting. One of the research team, Dr Tony O’Neil, refers to, “a really exciting time for psychiatric research”.
Further work now needs to be undertaken in an attempt to understand how MEGF10 affects normal brain development and its potential for moving towards a treatment for schizophrenia.
Chen, X., Wang, X., Chen, Q., Williamson, V., Oord, P.,Maher, B., O’Neil, A., Walsh, D., Kendler, K. (2008) MEGF10 Association with Schizophrenia. Biological Psychiatry. 63: 441-448.
Dr. Jerry Kennard is a psychologist an co-founder of Embarrassments.co.uk.