APR 01, 2019 07:41 AM PDT

Learning More About the Genetic Basis of Schizophrenia

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Scientists have been trying to understand the physiologic and genetic basis of schizophrenia for many years. Now researchers at the University of Basel's Biozentrum have assessed a group of 132 genes linked to the debilitating mental disorder. After following up on those findings with a zebrafish model, they confirmed that mutations in 30 of those genes cause pathological changes in the brain, and they learned more about the abnormalities that develop. The work has been reported in Cell.

Image adapted from Pixabay

 "Of the 132 suspects, we were ultimately able to establish a more precise perpetrator profile for 30 genes," explained the leader of the research, Professor Alex Schier, Director of the Biozentrum, University of Basel, and a group leader at Harvard University in Cambridge. "One of the perpetrators is the transcription factor znf536, which controls the development of the forebrain. This brain region influences our social behavior and the processing of stress." 

Transcription factors can change how other genes are expressed. The scientists used single-cell sequencing to reveal a role for znf536 in the development of neurons that are related to stress and social behavior. With their data on znf536 and the other genes they identified, they created an atlas. The researchers studied zebrafish mutants to catalog the problems that can arise in the brain when these genes contain errors.

While the exact causes of schizophrenia remain unclear, previous work has indicated that genes play a role in the disorder. Twin studies have suggested that the disease may also have an epigenetic component. Several areas of the genome and a variety of genes have been connected to the disease.

Symptoms of schizophrenia include difficulty with focusing and trouble sustaining activities as well as hallucinations, delusions and hearing voices, which can lead to a disturbed perception of reality. It affects an estimated 21 million people worldwide according to the World Health Organization, and people with the disorder are more likely to die early. 

The disease is treatable with medications, but doctors and patients may have to work to find the proper dose, and those drugs don't cure the disorder. Specialty care can take a comprehensive approach that might even involve the patient’s family. There is plenty of room to improve these approaches through a better understanding of the disease etiology.

"The question of how the individual genes trigger schizophrenia remains open," said Schier. "It would be possible to investigate whether the genes we identified change similar brain regions in patients as in zebrafish." That research might open up new therapeutic avenues.

While it may seem like an unlikely research model, zebrafish are commonly used in molecular biology and behavioral studies. Learn more about zebrafish in the lab from the videos. A basic outline of how they are used is featured above, and a more in-depth discussion of how neuronal activity is measured in live zebrafish brains is featured below.

Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via University of Basel, Cell

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
MAR 19, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
MAR 19, 2019
What is Hachimoji DNA?
  It’s the first thing you learn in biology.  There are four nucleotides which are adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine and they make up...
MAR 26, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
MAR 26, 2019
Utilizing CRISPR Technology for Digital Detection of Genetic Material
Graphene has long been known for its semiconductor capabilities and now it's being put to work in biosensors. Kiana Aran, Ph.D., Co-Founder of Nanosens, Assistant Professor of Biomedical...
APR 15, 2019
Cell & Molecular Biology
APR 15, 2019
Engineering Designer Organelles with Synthetic Amino Acids
Researchers want to engineer novel organelles to give cells new functions....
APR 25, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
APR 25, 2019
Using Wild Plant Traits to Reduce Pesticide Use
Pesticides are a part of agriculture, and while they are important to crop production, some can be detrimental to human health and the environment....
MAY 15, 2019
Cell & Molecular Biology
MAY 15, 2019
In Their First Stressful Year, New Doctors Age Rapidly at the Cellular Level
In doctors' first year of training as interns, they work very long hours in a demanding environments. It has a biological impact....
MAY 17, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
MAY 17, 2019
Understanding Why Some Birth Defects are More Common in Girls
The p53 gene stops tumors from forming. Researchers found that the tumor-suppressing gene also has a critical role in neural tube formation....
Loading Comments...