- A gene (ZNF804A) was found to be linked with the risk of schizophrenia
- ZNF804A gene affects the structure and function of the brain during early fetal development
- Defining the role of ZNF804A gene helps in understanding how schizophrenia-associated genes contribute to abnormal brain development
A gene called ZNF804A was found to be associated with the risk of schizophrenia, which regulates critical components of early brain development, reveals a new study led by researchers from Penn State University.
The gene linked to the risk of schizophrenia is involved in the translation of proteins from RNA. The gene is also involved in the neuronal proliferation and migration in the brain.
The study was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry helps in understanding the function of the gene, which can lead to more effective treatments for schizophrenia.
Yingwei Mao, associate professor of biology at Penn State and lead author of the study said that a recent study has identified over 100 genes, which were found to be linked with the risk of schizophrenia.
Yingwei Mao said, "We investigated one of these genes that are known to be significantly linked with schizophrenia: ZNF804A. In this study, we provide molecular evidence showing that ZNF804A could contribute to psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia." Nearly one percent of the world's population is affected with Schizophrenia, which is a severe mental disorder.
Treatments are focused mainly on reducing symptoms like delusions and hallucinations. However, the underlying causes are not addressed.
Schizophrenia is a complex genetic disease like many other human diseases. So far, not a single genetic or environmental risk factors have been identified as the cause of the disease.
Mao said that ZNF804A gene affects the structure and function of the brain during early fetal development.
Changes in Early Neurodevelopment
The findings of this study suggest that changes in early neurodevelopment may produce outcomes, which may not be triggered until adulthood.
Schizophrenia symptoms appear more prominently in late adolescence or early adulthood. However, genetic mutations that affect neurodevelopment early can increase the risk for future behavioral changes.
The research team has identified about nine genes that interact with ZNF804A, which are involved in controlling the translation of proteins from RNA. This shows that ZNF804A gene plays a significant role in the decoding process.
A mouse model was used by the research team, where they demonstrated that the gene regulates two processes that take place during neurodevelopment:
Proliferation is the replication of neuronal stem cells, which has the potential to become multiple different kinds of cells, including neurons and
Migration, during development the neurons move to specific locations in the brain.
Mao stated that ZNF804A is essential in regulating proliferation and migration of neurons in the brain.
"Disturbances to these processes may cause neuronal stem cells to develop into different types of cells or may cause neurons to migrate to different locations in the brain, changing neuronal circuitry and potentially leading to behavioral disorders like schizophrenia," explained Mao.
ZNF804A was also found to interact and modulate the expression of other genes, which are known to be linked to schizophrenia.
Mao stated that defining the role of ZNF804A gene is the first step in understanding how schizophrenia-associated genes contribute to abnormal brain development.
Understanding the interaction of these genes that contribute to the development of schizophrenia could help scientists identify the general pathway of the disease and can provide a better target for treatment, revealed Mao.
What is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia, a mental disorder is characterized by the breakdown of thought process and inability to act normally in social situations.
Schizophrenia can affect all spheres of life including perception, thought, drive, judgment, mood, and personality. Majority of people who develop schizophrenia are in the age group of 15-25 years. It affects both males and females, and the onset is often seen earlier in men than in women.
During an episode of schizophrenia, the patient needs to be hospitalized for safety reasons. Hospitalization is necessary for these patients to treat severe delusions or hallucinations, inability to care for oneself, serious suicidal inclinations, or severe problems with drugs or alcohol.