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Discovery: Thousands of genes mark schizophrenia risk

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A global research effort has identified a wide variety of biomarkers that point to the risk of developing schizophrenia. The discovery, led by experts at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy, gives scientists a whole slew of potential new targets for drug treatment.

Details are published online in JAMA Psychiatry.

The discovery zeroed in on genes that all appear connected to transmission of brain signals and immunity. And VCU researchers are already pursuing tests involving one of the new targets: the TCF4 gene, which switches on other brain genes. Other promising biomarkers included NOTCH4, NT5C2, CNNM2 and AS3MT, according to the study.

To get there, they evaluated nearly 22,000 subjects and a combined 1 million-plus genetic markers that appeared to point to schizophrenia risk. At that point, they whittled that number down to the 9,380 most promising DNA sequence variations/genetic markers, and then genotyped them against a large group of families that had schizophrenic relatives. From there, they narrowed the number even further to just over 8,100.

Principal investigator Edwin van den Oord said in a statement that the new biomarker discovery of genes "robustly associated with schizophrenia" will have a number of benefits. First, researchers gain specific targets to see how, if those genes are disrupted, they can gauge the way the brain develops and works. The discovery is also key for drug development in that it gives researchers a significant number of new targets with which to work.

About that "global" effort: the combined work included scientists from Denmark, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Norway and elsewhere in the U.S. A related international study in 2012 also led to the creation of a schizophrenia genetic profile.

- here's the release
- read the journal abstract

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