Autism and Schizophrenia Genes linked

Neurodevelopmental disorder genes may also be involved in mental illness

(RxWiki News) Scientists have discovered an unexpected overlap between genes implicated in autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.

Writing in the April 27 issue of the journal Cell, the team’s findings support the idea of “a neurodevelopmental component to adult-onset neuropsychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia”.

Neurodevelopmental disorders typically appear in childhood, while schizophrenia tends to afflict older adolescents and young adults. Since these diseases are not classified together, the study’s finding that neurodevelopmental disorder genes may also be involved in mental illness should be of great interest to doctors.

"Consult with your physician about how you or your loved ones may benefit from gene studies."

The team analyzed genes of 38 individuals previously diagnosed with autism or another neurodevelopmental disorder. Lead author James F. Gusella, PhD of the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and colleagues wrote that “a surprising number of genes previously associated with adolescent- or adult-onset psychiatric disorders were disrupted" in children with autism and neurodevelopmental disorders.

Gusella also stated that his team's findings "suggest that many genes and pathways are important to normal brain development and that perturbation of some can lead to a great variety of developmental or psychiatric conditions.

According to another author, Michael Talkowski, PhD,  "The theory that schizophrenia is a neurodevelopmental disorder has long been hypothesized, but we are just now beginning to uncover specific portions of the genetic underpinnings that may support that theory,"

The hunt for autism genes is attracting many scientific teams. Gunsella and colleagues located 22 genes previously not associated with autism-type disorders.

This provides potentially valuable information for creating therepuetic drugs that interact with gene activity.

While autism and schizoaffective disorders generally affect individuals at different times in the life cycle, the discovery of genes affecting both points to new opportunities for researchers, doctors, patients, and caretakers tasked with managing these complex, still poorly-understood conditions.

Review Date: 
May 3, 2012