A pioneering study into the cause of mental illness schizophrenia has revealed a key gene that, when damaged, can double the risk of developing the illness.
The findings have added more evidence to suggest a genetic basis for schizophrenia, an illness that affects around one in every 100 people at some point in their lives. The long-term illness causes delusions and hallucinations in sufferers and is thought to cost the NHS £2 billion a year in care and treatment.
The discovered gene, called TOP3B, has also been linked to learning difficulties and autism when damaged. The gene itself normally works to unwind the DNA double helix to allow other genes to function. This is especially important when nerve cells of the brain are developing in the womb and in the first few years of life.
If someone is missing versions of the gene, they are at a substantially higher risk of developing schizophrenia than those with all versions of the gene. Leader of the study, Dr Palote, has said:
“This is a tremendous discovery for our team. Not only have we uncovered vital information about the biology behind schizophrenia, but we have also linked this same biological process to a disorder associated with learning difficulties.”
The study has been published in Nature Neuroscience and was based on an analysis of an isolated population in Finland, where schizophrenia was more prevalent than anywhere else in the country.
While there is growing evidence to suggest that schizophrenia has roots in genetic causes, the disorder is thought to be influenced by environment and upbringing also.
To find out more about this condition and to find a counsellor near you, please see our page on Schizophrenia.
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