People with a specific mutated gene may be prone to schizophrenia, according to a Canadian study published Monday in a US scientific journal.
The study led by University of Montreal researchers found new mutations in the so-called "SHANK3 gene" in schizophrenic patients.
"That these new mutations occur in schizophrenia is rather unexpected and may explain why the identification of the genes linked to this disease has been so difficult," senior author Guy Rouleau said in a statement.
"Our findings show that a significant number of schizophrenia cases are the result of new genetic mutations in the SHANK3 gene," he said in the study published in the US Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that affects about one percent of people worldwide. It is most commonly manifested as auditory hallucinations, paranoid or bizarre delusions, or disorganized speech and thinking.
It often leads to significant social or occupational dysfunction.
SHANK3 proteins are involved in maintaining the physical structure of nerve cells, and mutations in the gene result in specific abnormalities in cell shapes.
These deformations have been observed in schizophrenia patients.
Lead study author Julie Gauthier said the SHANK3 gene had "previously been linked to autism," which suggests "a molecular genetic link between these two neurodevelopmental disorders."
It also means that SHANK3 "may have a role in other brain disorders," she said.