A new study further confirms the biological and genetic links between heart (or cardiovascular) disease and schizophrenia.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of premature death in schizophrenia patients, who die from heart and blood vessel disorders at twice the rate of people without the mental disorder.
“These results have important clinical implications, adding to our growing awareness that cardiovascular disease is under-recognized and under-treated in mentally ill individuals,” said study first author Ole Andreassen, M.D., Ph.D., an adjunct professor at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and professor of psychiatry at the University of Oslo.
“Its presence in schizophrenia is not solely due to lifestyle or medication side effects. Clinicians must recognize that individuals with schizophrenia are at risk for cardiovascular disease independent of these factors.”
For the study, an international team of researchers used a novel statistical model to magnify the powers of genome-wide association studies (GWAS).
These are studies in which differing bits of sequential DNA — called single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs — in persons and groups are compared to find common genetic variants that might be linked to a trait or disease.
The researchers further enhanced the power of GWAS by adding information based on genetic pleiotropy — the concept that at least some genes influence multiple traits, instead of a single trait.
“Our approach is different in that we use all available genetic information for multiple traits and diseases, not just SNPs below a given statistical threshold,” said principal investigator Anders M. Dale, Ph.D.
“This significantly increases the power to discover new genes by leveraging the combined power across multiple GWAS of pleiotropic traits and diseases.”
Some of the shared risk factors included triglyceride and lipoprotein levels, waist-hip ratio, systolic blood pressure and body mass index.
“Our findings suggest that shared biological and genetic mechanisms can help explain why schizophrenia patients have a greater risk of cardiovascular disease,” concluded the researchers. “In addition to schizophrenia, this new analysis method can be used to examine the genetic overlap between a number of diseases and traits.”
“Examining overlap in common variants can shed insight into disease mechanisms and help identify potential therapeutic targets for common diseases,” researchers said.