Scientists Make Key Schizophrenia Discovery
Scientists have taken a big step forward in understanding the cause of schizophrenia.
For the first time, researchers have pinned down a molecular process in the brain that helps to trigger the disabling mental health condition. The scientists involved in the landmark study, published in the journal Nature, say the discovery of this new genetic pathway probably reveals what goes wrong neurologically in a young person diagnosed with schizophrenia.
The study team, chiefly from the Broad Institute, Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, found that a person’s risk of schizophrenia is dramatically increased if they inherit variants of a gene that’s involved in a process known as “synaptic pruning.” This is when the brain sheds weak or redundant connections between neurons as it matures.
In people with schizophrenia, however, the gene appears to mark too many synapses for pruning; in short the process goes out of control. The result is an abnormal loss of gray matter.
The study marks a watershed moment, with the potential for early detection and new treatments that were unthinkable just a year ago, according to Steven Hyman, director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute. Hyman, a former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, calls it “the most significant mechanistic study about schizophrenia ever.”
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