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Schizophrenia has many genetic links, study says

By Andrew M. Seaman

NEW YORK - More than 100 locations on the human genome may play a role in a person’s risk of developing schizophrenia, according to a new study.

While the results do not have an immediate effect on those living with the psychiatric disorder, one of the study’s authors said they open areas of research that had not seen advances in recent years.

"The exciting thing about having little openings is it gives you a place to dig and make big openings,” said Steve McCarroll, director of genetics for the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

McCarroll is part of the Schizophrenia Working Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, which published the study in the journal Nature.

About 1 percent of Americans have schizophrenia, according to the National Institutes of Health. The disorder’s symptoms, which include hallucinations and delusions, often begin between people’s teenage years and their late-20s. It often includes psychotic experiences, such as hearing voices or delusions.

While the exact cause is unknown, research to date suggests a combination of physical, genetic, psychological and environmental factors can make people more likely to develop it.

Researchers have long believed genetics play an important role in a person’s schizophrenia risk, because about 10 percent of those with a parent or sibling living with schizophrenia also have the disorder.

In the new study, the researchers identified 108 locations on the human genome that are tied to schizophrenia risk by comparing the genomes of more than 80,000 people with and without the disorder.

“Every one of us has dozens of these variants,” McCarroll said. “Schizophrenia patients on average have more than unaffected individuals but that’s only true on average, not every individual case.”

Of those 108 locations, the researchers write that 83 had not been previously linked to schizophrenia.

Some of the genes found to be linked to schizophrenia risk include those that have also been tied to how brain cells communicate with each other and to learning and memory.

The new findings support the use of some existing treatments for the symptoms of schizophrenia and researchers hope they may point to other more comprehensive treatments.

“The goal is obviously to understand the disease process and develop treatments,” said Dr. Steve Hyman, director of the Stanley Center.

(Reporting by Andrew Seaman in New York; Editing by Bill Trott)

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