Although we understand that schizophrenia has some genetic components, the specifics of how these genes operate remain unclear. In a recent study, researchers have found genetic disruptions occur at a crucial time in brain development, a finding the team hopes could pave the way for new treatment.

The team built upon past research that uncovered 108 schizophrenia-related locations on the human genome by further linking this DNA with genes related to brain development. The research showed that genes which increase the risk for schizophrenia are most active during early fetal brain development, CNN reported.

"Schizophrenia is actually an adult-onset disorder, so people really didn't think that it may have any fetal components," explained study author Dr. Hyejung Won, CNN reported. "Maybe fetal brain developmental period is a very critical (time) for the onset of this disorder, even though the onset -- really showing off the symptoms -- comes at a much later time."

In order to uncover this finding, the team used technology called "chromosome conformation capture" to help illuminate the chromosome to better see specific genetic disruptions. The original 108 schizophrenia locations were not in the part of the genome that actively controls our health--meaning they could not physically cause the onset of schizophrenia. However, by linking the schizophrenia-related DNA to genes related to brain development, they were able to better understand how schizophrenia develops in the brain. Unlike the traits of brown eyes or illnesses such as Sickle cell disease, the researchers explained that schizophrenia is not caused by specific genes. Rather, it is caused by many regions, or locis, of the genome.

“Each locus actually has (a) very small impact in really causing schizophrenia. So it doesn't really mean if you have one locus associated with schizophrenia, you have schizophrenia," said Won.

The team hopes their finding will contribute to an effective treatment for schizophrenia, a serious and often debilitating mental health disease affecting around 3.5 million Americans.

Source: Won H, de la Torre L, Stein JL. Chromosome conformation elucidates regulatory relationships in developing human brain. Springer Nature . 2016

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