An international group of researchers have for the first time come up with genetic evidence linking schizophrenia to a specific region of DNA - on chromosome 6.
Lead researcher Nancy Buccola, Assistant Professor of Clinical Nursing at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans, says that this is the same area where key genes for immune function are located.
The researchers recruited study participants, people with diagnoses of schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, as well as controls from the general population.
They analysed data collected and also conducted a meta-analysis of data from the Molecular Genetics of Schizophrenia, International Schizophrenia Consortium and SGENE data sets - thousands of DNA samples.
The team point out that while a single gene does not appear to be the source of the development of schizophrenia, variations on chromosome 6 appeared to be associated with higher risk.
According to them, these variations were found most often in people with schizophrenia, leading the scientists to believe that these common variations contribute to the development of schizophrenia.
They further said that the area of chromosome 6, in the same area where genes important to the immune system function, provokes questions about whether or not treatments for autoimmune disorders might also be helpful in treating schizophrenia.
"Schizophrenia can be a devastating disease, and while treatments are improving, there are still people who do not respond or only partially respond," Nature magazine quoted Buccola, principal investigator on the LSUHSC study, as noting.
"Understanding the underpinnings of this illness will open doors to new and potentially better treatments," the researcher added.
The research was supported by funding from the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression.
"Scientists have been looking for schizophrenia susceptibility genes since the early 1900s. This study shows that these genes can be found and sets the stage for future research," says Buccola.