Woman face reflected in mirror
Woman face reflected in mirror

New study sheds light on schizophrenia

QUEENSLAND researchers have identified a new gene linked to schizophrenia as they continue their quest to understand the causes of the disease and possible new treatments.

The research, published in JAMA Psychiatry, follows an 18-year collaboration between the University of Queensland and a team of Indian researchers led by Professor Rangaswamy Thara from the Schizophrenia Research Foundation in Chennai.

"We recruited, diagnosed and screened the DNA of over 3000 people in southern India, and we conducted a genome wide-screen on those DNAs and found that those with schizophrenia were more likely to have particular genetic variation," Professor Bryan Mowry from UQ's Queensland Brain Institute said.

"The study identified a gene called NAPRT1 that encodes an enzyme involved in vitamin B3 metabolism - we were also able to find this gene in a large genomic dataset of schizophrenia patients with European ancestry."

Professor Bryan Mowry, schizophrenia researcher at the Queensland Brain Institute. Pic Mark Cranitch.
Professor Bryan Mowry, schizophrenia researcher at the Queensland Brain Institute. Pic Mark Cranitch.

No previous study on people of European descent had picked up this area of the genome as a risk factor for schizophrenia.

Professor Mowry said much of the variation in schizophrenia, which occurred in about 1 per cent of people, was due to genetic factors.

"Schizophrenia strikes at the heart of what it means to be human - it has devastating impacts on the sufferer and their ability to function," he said. "Our studies aim to shed more light on what makes people susceptible to schizophrenia and developing better treatments for the future."

Researchers say there is a “multitude” ” of genetic variants linked to schizophrenia, but remain unsure of what the hundreds of genes involved do.
Researchers say there is a “multitude” ” of genetic variants linked to schizophrenia, but remain unsure of what the hundreds of genes involved do.

They are now using zebrafish to help understand how the gene functions in the brain and explore new treatments.

"When we knocked out the NAPRT1 gene in zebrafish, brain development of the fish was impaired - we are now working to understand more deeply how this gene functions in the brain," Prof Mowry said.

"The next phase is to study their function in normal and diseased states using computational approaches and animal models, such as the zebrafish."

Researchers hope to eventually develop novel therapeutics and better medications for those who suffer schizophrenia, and want to be able to diagnose people earlier.

"The earlier treatment is commenced the better the outcome will be, and so if we can develop ways to diagnose people even earlier that will make us more able to provide better treatments in the long run," he said.