APR 01, 2017 12:47 PM PDT

ALS, Schizophrenia Found to Have Biological Link

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch
2 15 735

Scientists have discovered that there are common features in the genetic origins of two seemingly unrelated diseases, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and schizophrenia. That suggests the two disorders are linked by biological features and mechanisms. This research is summarized in the video below by Trinity College Dublin, and has been reported in Nature Communications.

Using a massive amount of genetic data from nearly 13,000 ALS patients and over 30,000 schizophrenia patients, scientists demonstrated that there are many genes that are associated with both disorders. The researchers, led by Trinity and working in collaboration with investigators from the University of Utrecht, Kings College London and members of the Project MinE and Psychiatric Genome Consortia, have found that there is a 14 percent overlap in genetic susceptibility to schizophrenia and ALS.

ALS, also called Motor Neuron Disease (MND) is a neurodegenerative condition that starts in adulthood, while schizophrenia is a neurological disorder that starts in development. Previous work has revealed that schizophrenia can overlap with other neuropsychiatric illnesses such as bipolar affective disorder and autism, but this is the first evidence that there is a shared genetic susceptibility between ALS and psychiatric disease.

"This study demonstrates the power of genetics in understanding the causes of diseases. While neurological and psychiatric conditions may have very different characteristics and clinical presentations, our work has shown that the biological pathways that lead to these diverse conditions have much in common,” commented lead author of the report Dr Russell McLaughlin, the Ussher Assistant Professor in Genome Analysis at Trinity College Dublin.

"Our work over the years has shown us that ALS/MND is a much more complex disease than we originally thought,” commented senior author and lead investigator Orla Hardiman, a Professor of Neurology in Trinity and Consultant Neurologist at the National Neuroscience Centre. “Our recent observations of links with psychiatric conditions in some families have made us think differently about how we should study ALS/MND. When combined with our clinical work and our studies using MRI and EEG, it becomes clear that ALS/MND is not just a disorder of individual nerve cells, but a disorder of the way these nerve cells talk to one another as part of a larger network. So instead of thinking of ALS/MND as a degeneration of one cell at a time, and looking for a 'magic bullet' treatment that works, we should think about ALS/MND in the same way that we think about schizophrenia, which is a problem of disruptions in connectivity between different regions of the brain, and we should look for drugs that help to stabilize the failing brain networks,” she continued.

"The other significant issue that this research brings up is that the divide between psychiatry and neurology is a false one. We need to recognize that brain disease has many different manifestations, and the best way to develop new treatments is to understand the biology of what is happening. This will have major implications for how we classify diseases going forward, and in turn how we train our future doctors in both psychiatry and neurology. That in itself will have knock on consequences for how society understands, approaches and treats people with psychiatric and neurological conditions," Professor Hardiman concluded.

 

Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via Trinity College Dublin, Nature Communications

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
JUN 21, 2018
Cell & Molecular Biology
JUN 21, 2018
Are Patterns in Biology Governed by a Turing Theory?
Alan Turing didn't only contribute to computing & mathematics. He also developed a theory about how biological patterns form.
JUL 12, 2018
Videos
JUL 12, 2018
Why Poison Ivy Makes us Itch
For some people, summer comes with a risk of many itchy nuisances, including poison ivy.
JUL 21, 2018
Genetics & Genomics
JUL 21, 2018
Designer Cells Sense & Destroy MRSA
Staphylococcus aureus is thought to lead to over 11 million visits to the doctor and the ER every year in the US alone.
JUL 28, 2018
Cell & Molecular Biology
JUL 28, 2018
Self-organizing Synthetic Tissues are Getting More Complex
All the structures in the body arise from a fertilized cell, and scientists are learning more about how that happens.
AUG 09, 2018
Cell & Molecular Biology
AUG 09, 2018
Observing Development at the Cellular Level
A new method can track the formation and movement of lipids, DNA and proteins in live cells.
AUG 14, 2018
Microbiology
AUG 14, 2018
How Ebola Gets Into Cells
Researchers have learned how Ebola gains entry to cells, which can help us stop it.
Loading Comments...