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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Schizophrenia May Reside in Our DNA

DNA double helix, potentially harboring mental illness.

New genetic studies suggest that sections of our genetic code affect a person's risk for developing the schizophrenia. In three separate studies, researchers found that code involved in brain development, memory and the immune system may contribute to this puzzling disease.

The findings are important because schizophrenia has been so hard to study, says Kari Stefansson, CEO of the Icelandic company deCODE Genetics and an author of one of the studies. One reason is that schizophrenia doesn't occur in animals.

"It's a disease of thoughts and emotions, the two functions of the brain that define us as a species and define us as individuals," Stefansson told NPR.

Scientists have tried for decades to find differences between the brains of typical people and those with schizophrenia, but without much success. So Stefansson and a consortium of researchers from around the world decided to look for subtle differences in the genes of thousands of people. Some had schizophrenia; some didn't.

One place the studies found a clue about what might be going wrong in the brains of people with schizophrenia was in a gene responsible for a protein called neurogranin, which can affect memory and thought.

Click here for the NPR “All Things Considered” article.

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