Australian researchers have identified a gene that could be linked to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
The gene, called ABCA13, is active in the hippocampus and cortex regions of the brain and had not previously been associated with mental illness.
The discovery of the gene was a lucky break, said Dr Allan McRae of the Queensland Statistic Genetics Laboratory attached to the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR). The Laboratory had collaborated with the University of Edinburgh in the project.
"We did a genetic analysis on a patient with chronic schizophrenia and discovered he had a break in his DNA, right in the middle of the ABCA13 gene. The break meant that the gene wouldn't work properly, so we hypothesised that this might be the reason for their illness," said Dr McRae.
"We tested this theory in another 3000 people, by examining this gene in schizophrenia, bipolar and depression patients and comparing it to people without these conditions."
They found that ABCA13 gene was linked to people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
"We found that the gene was involved in 4 per cent of individuals with bipolar and 2 per cent of people with schizophrenia," said Dr McRae. "This is quite significant, since we think that these disorders are caused by hundreds or even thousands of genes."
This research can lead to better diagnosis of mental illness risk, and early intervention and treatment. The involvement of this particular gene also furthers our understanding of the mechanisms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder development.
This study was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics