Study suggests a connection between cytokines and environmental factors that lead to the disease.

A team of scientists uncovered evidence of a novel genetic locus that appears to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia. They report that the research is the first successful whole genome association study for a psychiatric illness.

“If these results are confirmed, they could open up new avenues for research in schizophrenia and severe mental illness,” notes psychiatrist Anil K. Malhotra, M.D., one of the research leaders at the Zucker Hillside Hospital (ZHH) campus of The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research.

The work, which covered roughly 500,000 SNPs, revealed that a locus (rs4129148) near the CSF2RA and IL3RA gene was significantly associated with schizophrenia. Those two genes produce receptors for two cytokines, GM-CSF and interleukin-3.

“A role for cytokines could help explain why prenatal exposure to viruses is a risk factor for schizophrenia, thus providing a bridge between genetic risk and environmental exposures,” surmises Dr. Malhotra.

“The critical next step is confirming these results in independent datasets,” concludes psychologist Todd Lencz, Ph.D., who also led the team.

Results of the study, which used Golden Helix’ HelixTree® Genetics Analysis Software, were published in the March 27 issue of Molecular Psychiatry.

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