Genetic Mutation May Indicate Schizophrenia Risk in Newborns

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Researchers at Cardiff University in Wales, United Kingdom, have found that the effects of a genetic mutation known to play a factor in mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, is active shortly after babies are born, based on a study in mice.

Kevin Fox, PhD, and colleagues conducted tests on mice that demonstrated that when the gene, DISC-1, doesn’t bind early in life, the mice lacked plasticity as adults. This prevented cells (cortical neurons) in the brain’s largest region from forming synapses. This, in turn, inhibited the ability to form coherent thoughts and to properly perceive the world, they reported in the journal Science.

The researchers discovered a period early in the brain’s development — one week after birth — where failure to bind had an irreversible effect on the brain’s plasticity later on in life.

“We have identified a critical period during brain development that directs us to test whether other schizophrenia risk genes affecting different regions of the brain create their malfunction during their own critical period,” Fox said in a statement.

“The challenge ahead lies in finding a way of treating people during this critical period or in finding ways of reversing the problem during adulthood by returning plasticity to the brain,’ he added. This, we hope, could one day help to prevent the manifestation or recurrence of schizophrenia symptoms altogether.”

NIH Discovers New "Genomic Variants" in Schizophrenia
Discovery raises possibility infants could be screened and treated for schizophrenia prior to the illness' development.

British scientists have made a major breakthrough that could one day help stop schizophrenia in its tracks. Cardiff University researchers discovered that a gene known to be involved in the mental illness is active in newborns.

The “immense” finding raises the possibility that infants could be screened and treated to prevent the condition developing later on. It could also offer hope to those with bipolar disorder and depression. Symptoms of panic, anger, depression, hallucinations and delusions can all take a heavy toll on schizophrenia sufferers and their families.

The latest discovery suggests that the seeds of the condition are sown in the first weeks of life— with knock-on consequences in later years. The Cardiff study centered on a gene called DISC-1, which is known to be involved in a range of mental illnesses including schizophrenia.

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