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Study Fingers Schizophrenia Genes

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Dec. 13, 2001 -- In the largest study in the U.S. looking at genes for schizophrenia, researchers have pinpointed two particular areas that may play a big role in some groups of people.

Previous studies have implicated several different genes behind schizophrenia. But the studies haven't been able to show consistent results. And these researchers may have figured out why.

Debby Tsuang, MD, and colleagues looked at 166 families that had anywhere from two to six members with schizophrenia or a similar medical problem called schizoaffective disorder. This is the first such study to include large numbers of people of European-American descent and African-American families from the U.S.

The researchers found an association between chromosomes 13 and 15 and schizophrenia.

And when they looked specifically at genes in particular ethnic groups, they found that chromosome 15 was particularly linked to schizophrenia in European-Americans. However, this chromosome did not play much of a role in African-American families.

"This was one of the strongest results of our analysis," said Tsuang in a news release. "It means that different combinations of genes may contribute to schizophrenia in different ethnic groups."

This finding may account for why different studies have shown different results when looking at schizophrenia genetics.

The next step is to narrow down exactly which part of the chromosomes actually increase the chance of getting schizophrenia. There are millions of genes within each chromosome. Genes are actually what drive the workings of the body. Although the researchers have narrowed down the suspects, there are hundreds of possibilities within each pinpointed region.

"Currently, there is no good way to decipher which of these genes is directly responsible," said Tsuang.

Tsuang also says that due to the complicated genetics behind schizophrenia, it will likely be some time before the specific genes that are responsible will be identified. And it will be even longer before treatments based on these findings become possible. But researchers will continue to search for genes that might help cure this disease one day.

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