Buccola also suggested a possible link between the immune system and schizophrenia.
The study, "Biological insights from 108 schizophrenia-associated genetic loci," was published online July 22, 2014 in Nature
, available at http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature13595.html.
Buccola collected samples as part of the Molecular Genetics of Schizophrenia (MGS) study. A large international collaboration, called the Schizophrenia Working Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, combined these previously collected samples with published or unpublished genome-wide association study genotypes into a single, systematic analysis. To the Consortium's knowledge this is the largest molecular genetic study of schizophrenia ever conducted.
The researchers not only identified previously unknown areas associated with schizophrenia, but also show that the associations are not random; rather they converge upon genes active in certain tissues and cell types, including those that play important roles in immune function. They report 128 independent associations spanning 108 regions of DNA, 83 of which have not been previously reported. The findings provoke the question of whether or not treatments for autoimmune disorders might also be helpful in treating schizophrenia, or at least provide new targets for drug development.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, which funded the research, approximately 2.4 million American adults, or about 1.1 percent of the population age 18 and older in a given year, have schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and disabling brain disorder. People with the disorder may hear voices other people don't hear. They may believe other people are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts, or plotting to harm them. This can terrify people with the illness and make them withdrawn or extremely agitated.
While treatments are available, they are not effective for many patients. All of the currently used antipsychotic drugs work by a mechanism discovered more than 60 years ago. No new effective drugs have been developed since partly due to lack of knowledge about how the disease develops.
Buccola, Principal Investigator at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans for the MGS study, says "The lead authors have done a tremendous job of coordinating the analysis of a vast amount of data. This study brings us closer to understanding the cause of schizophrenia as well as potential treatments."