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Genes for Communication Similar to Genes for Psychiatric Disease

Genes for Communication Similar to Genes for Psychiatric Disease

Written by Amrita Surendranath, B.Sc, M.Sc.
Article Reviewed by 
The Medindia Medical Review Team on January 3, 2017 at 7:06 PM
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  • The genes for communication are similar to genes for psychiatric illness.
  • The brain continues to develop as the child grows from infancy to adolescence and with it bring changes to communication and risk for illness.
  • A research team from Max Plank Institute hopes to find out how these genetic variations affect brain development and social skills.

The genetic overlap that exists between the development of psychological disorders, as well as the development of social communicative competence were studied by a research team from Max Planck for PsychoLinguistics (MPI).

It involved understanding the ability of middle school and adolescent to engage socially with other people.

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Genes for Communication Similar to Genes for Psychiatric Disease

The study found that genes that were associated with the development of schizophrenia were the ones that were strongly associated with social competence during the stage of early adolescence.

The study findings were published in an article in the journal Molecular Psychology.

The Difference is the Timing

Dr. Beate St Pourcain, lead author of the study, who is a senior investigator at MPI said that the findings of the study show that a distinct set of genes were responsible for the risk of these psychiatric conditions and both the set of genes influenced the ability to communicate. The genes, however, exhibited maximum influence during various periods of development according to the author.

The study correlates with one of the most characteristic feature of psychiatric diseases like autism or schizophrenia where the affected individual is unable to communicate with others. They can neither initiate a conversation nor are they able to respond appropriately, leading to their social isolation. However, though both these psychiatric diseases affect the ability to communicate well, they both develop at different periods.

The two psychiatric illnesses develop in very different ways with the initial signs of autism developed during infancy or early childhood, while the symptoms of schizophrenia normally do not occur until early adulthood.

Autism and Schizophrenia

Though people who have autism and schizophrenia are unable to communicate effectively, there are marked differences between the two psychological conditions. Autistic people are unable to engage socially and find it difficult to understand social cues. They are rigid but are thinkers with very strong interests. People with schizophrenia are delusional with a disturbed thought process.

Previous studies conducted have shown that many of these symptoms associated with psychiatric disease are found in growing children as well as in adults. This highlights a common process that is underlying and which could differentiate between the normal and the abnormal.


Autism is associated with intellectual disability, difficulty in paying attention, poor motor coordination, disturbances in sleep patterns and gastrointestinal problems. People with autism, however, are associated with excellence in maths, music, and visual skills.

Autism begins during the early stages of brain development and the symptoms begin to develop within the first 2 to 3 years of life.


Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder that is chronic and affects the behavior, thinking and feelings of the individual. People who suffer from schizophrenia seem like they are in a different world and have completely lost touch with reality. Schizophrenia is not very common but it can be debilitating.

The symptoms of schizophrenia include hallucinations, delusions, inability to focus, difficulty in starting as well as sustaining an activity and problems with memory.

Genome-Wide Analysis Study

When a genome-wide analysis was conducted, the research team found that there was a distinct genetic architecture that could be associated with psychiatric conditions along with related symptoms that were found in normal individuals. The psychiatric illnesses are a result of a polygenic effect, where variations lead to milder symptoms while the more severe illness is developed due to small changes that result in many genetic differences across the genome.

The genetic factors that are associated with social communication are dynamic and change from early childhood to adolescence. There is a consistency between genes and biological growth.

Assessing Psychological Disorders

Dr. Pourcaid stated that understanding the genetic relationships that exist between traits as well as disorders will help in understanding behavioral traits that overlap between psychological conditions.

Senior author of the study, Dr. George Davey Smith, who is a professor of clinical epidemiology at the University of Bristol said that the study provided an association between genetic predictors and psychiatric conditions with differences in social communications on advancing age, this provided access to understanding specific causes that trigger these conditions.

Dr. David Skuse, a professor of Behavioral and Brain Sciences with The University College London, added that the study showed that the measurement of competence in social communication could be a sensitive indicator for genetic risk. The scientists are looking to find out how these genetic variations influence the development of the social brain and skills.

The study provides an insight how milestones in brain development based on genetic architecture can affect mental development as well as increase risk for certain psychiatric illnesses.

References :
  1. B St Pourcain, E B Robinson, V Anttila B Sullivan, J Maller, J Golding, D Skuse, S Ring, D M Evans, S Zammit, S E Fisher, B M Neale, R J L Anney, S Ripke, M V Hollegaard, T Werge, A Ronald, J Grove, D M Hougaard, A D BÝrglum, P B Mortensen, M J Daly, G Davey Smith1. "ASD and schizophrenia show distinct developmental profiles in common genetic overlap with population-based social communication difficulties," Molecular Psychiatry (2017),(doi: 10.1038/mp.2016.198)
  2. Schizophrenia - (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia/index.shtml)
  3. What Is Autism? What is Autism Spectrum Disorder? - (https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism)

Source: Medindia

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