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New Risk Factor Found for Schizophrenia

Scientists discover link to unstudied gene (January 5)

Researchers at the University of Aberdeen in the U.K. have discovered a link between a largely unstudied gene and schizophrenia. They also found a link between the same gene and bipolar disorder, depression, and autism.

The new findings were published in the Journal of Cell Science.

The investigators set out to look for genes that might be important for schizophrenia. During an analysis of five major patient cohorts, they focused on the poorly understood gene ULK4, which has been associated with hypertension but not with mental health disorders.

The researchers discovered that a mutation of the gene ULK4 was found far more often in patients with schizophrenia. They also identified the ULK4 mutation in some people with bipolar disorder, depression, or autism.

Moreover, the researchers discovered evidence that the ULK4 gene regulates important signalling pathways within nerve cells involved in schizophrenia and stress. They also discovered that mutation of the ULK4 gene reduced communication between brain cells.

“This is an important discovery of a gene involved in major mental health disorders which affects basic nerve cell growth and nerve-to-nerve communication,” said researcher Professor Colin McCaig. “We expect it will form another important piece of the jigsaw that will produce a fuller understanding of what goes wrong in the brain in conditions such as schizophrenia.”

Source: University of Aberdeen; February 5, 2014.

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