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Understanding the Complex Genetics Behind Schizophrenia

Understanding the Complex Genetics Behind SchizophreniaI have long been skeptical of efforts to find a single gene or gene mutation relevant to any particular mental illness. After decades’ worth of such research, we are seemingly no closer to finding such genes or gene mutations. It is a frustrating effort.

As I wrote five years ago, genes and gene mutations for schizophrenia don’t seem to really help our understanding of the underlying causes of this disorder. They have, however, been extremely successful in showing how incredibly complex a disorder like schizophrenia really is.

New research published in Nature lends further evidence to this complexity. The combined effects of many genes and gene mutations are implicated in schizophrenia.

The Conversation’s Annabel Bligh has the story:

Many studies have shown that schizophrenia runs in families and so genes are undoubtedly a factor. A tenth of people with schizophrenia have a parent with the condition. But, despite its high heritability, a large number of individuals with schizophrenia do not have a family history of the disease.

The search for a “schizophrenia gene”, though popular, has not proved fruitful. This research sheds light on how genetics plays a role in cases which have not been inherited.

The new study was conducted on the blood DNA taken from nearly 7,000 Bulgarians and Swedes, examining those who were diagnosed with schizophrenia and comparing them to others without the disorder.

Scientists were able to pinpoint the sites of gene mutations and identify patterns that reveal clues about the biology underlying schizophrenia. Rather than finding only a few “faulty” genes, the two studies determine that the genetic basis of schizophrenia is tremendously complex. The data confirms that it is a very large number of rare genetic mutations that contribute to risk of developing the disorder.

The gene mutations found in this latest research account for only 5 percent of schizophrenia cases — leaving a whopping 95 percent of people with schizophrenia without any answers. This new research is consistent with past research into schizophrenia genetics — the mutations account for only a small portion of those afflicted.

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that affects only a tiny percentage of people with a mental illness — less than 1 percent of the population. It’s well-known symptoms include persistent hallucinations and delusions. People with schizophrenia tend to suffer from the disorder most of their adult lives, with onset typically occurring in one’s twenties. Medication and therapy typically help those with schizophrenia, but often people suffer from continuing symptoms throughout their life.

The good news is that as technological improvements progress, so does our ability to quickly analyze the huge amounts of data analysis needed to find relationships among genes and gene mutations. We’re now digging deeper into our DNA than ever before — enhancing our understanding of the genetic foundation of schizophrenia.

I’ve never been convinced that genetics explains as much about schizophrenia as some researchers believe. I’m certain it’s a part of the complex puzzle of schizophrenia, but any solution tied to genetics will not be a solution of relevance to most people with this disorder.


Read the full article: The genetics behind schizophrenia just got more complex


Image: Darryl Leja, NHGRI

Understanding the Complex Genetics Behind Schizophrenia

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Understanding the Complex Genetics Behind Schizophrenia. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 23 Jan 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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