New Orleans, LA — For the first time, an international group of researchers has found genetic evidence linking schizophrenia to a specific region of DNA — on chromosome 6. This is the same area where key genes for immune function are located. The LSUHSC research team was led by Nancy Buccola, APRN, PMH CNS-BC, Assistant Professor of Clinical Nursing at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans, who also coordinated the ten clinical sites. The work, Common variants on chromosome 6p22.1 are associated with schizophrenia, along with two related papers, is published in the July 1, 2009 issue of the journal Nature.
The researchers recruited study participants, people with diagnoses of schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, plus controls from the general population. They analyzed data collected and also conducted a meta-analysis of data from the Molecular Genetics of Schizophrenia, International Schizophrenia Consortium and SGENE data sets — thousands of DNA samples.
While a single gene does not appear to be the source of the development of schizophrenia, the researchers found variations on chromosome 6 that appear to be associated with higher risk. These variations were found most often in people with schizophrenia, leading the scientists to believe that these common variations contribute to the development of schizophrenia. This area of chromosome 6, in the same area where genes important to the immune system function, provokes questions about whether or not treatments for autoimmune disorders might also be helpful in treating schizophrenia.
“Schizophrenia can be a devastating disease, and while treatments are improving, there are still people who do not respond or only partially respond,” notes Buccola, principal investigator on the LSUHSC study. “Understanding the underpinnings of this illness will open doors to new and potentially better treatments.”
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and disabling brain disorder that affects about 1.1 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year. People with schizophrenia sometimes hear voices others don’t hear, believe that others are broadcasting their thoughts to the world, or become convinced that others are plotting to harm them. These experiences can make them fearful and withdrawn and cause difficulties when they try to have relationships with others.
The LSUHSC research team, which included LSUHSC Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry, Margaret Baier, MD, and Erich Conrad, MD, LSUHSC Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, as well as Sherri Chalona, completed the work while evacuated from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to LSUHSC’s temporary campuses in Baton Rouge.
The research was supported by funding from the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression.
“Scientists have been looking for schizophrenia susceptibility genes since the early 1900s,” says Buccola. “This study shows that these genes can be found and sets the stage for future research.”
LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans educates the majority of Louisiana’s health care professionals. The state’s academic health leader, LSUHSC comprises a School of Medicine, the state’s only School of Dentistry, Louisiana’s only public School of Public Health, Schools of Allied Health Professions and Graduate Studies, as well as the only School of Nursing in Louisiana within an academic health center. LSUHSC faculty take care of patients in public and private hospitals and clinics throughout Louisiana. In the vanguard of biosciences research in a number of areas worldwide, LSUHSC faculty have made lifesaving discoveries and continue to work to prevent, treat, or cure disease. LSUHSC outreach programs span the state.