Researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Oxford found that a genetic variant in the Reelin gene increases the risk of developing schizophrenia in women.
The study was conducted in the Ashkenazi Jewish population, in a multinational collaboration including populations and researchers from the United Kingdom, Ireland, United States, and China.
Previous epidemiological studies have established that schizophrenia is inherited. However, efforts to identify the genes associated with this devastating disease, which affects about 1pct of the human population, have encountered significant difficulties.
A new opportunity to address this challenge has been made possible by technological advances that allow the complete and efficient scanning of the entire genome.
The authors analyzed 500,000 genetic variants scattered across the whole human genome in DNA from patients with schizophrenia and control subjects.
The researchers compared the genomes of hundreds of patients with schizophrenia with those of healthy controls across several human populations, and identified a gene that considerably increases the risk of developing the disease, but interestingly in women only.
This study represents significant progress in the study of schizophrenia with possible practical implications in the areas of disease diagnosis and drug discovery.
Yet, it is important to stress that these possibilities will require many years of additional research, and even then, success cannot be guaranteed.
The study is published in the February issue of the open-access journal PLoS Genetics.