New Gene Leads to Insight of Schizophrenia

All around the world many of people suffer from Schizophrenia. According to the National Institute of Mental Health Schizophrenia “is a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves.” Some of the symptoms include hallucinations, delusions, and reduced expressions by the face. It has become apparent to doctors and scientists that the disorder is heritable, however people can still be diagnosed with Schizophrenia even if a family member has not been affected. Scientists believe that many different genes may increase the risk of schizophrenia, and that no single gene causes the disorder by itself.

It has come to attention that the risk of schizophrenia is increased if there are specific parts in a gene related to synaptic pruning. Synaptic pruning is the elimination of connections between neurons to increase the efficiency of neuronal transmissions, which is increased in the time of adolescence. A gene, called complement component 4 (C4), plays an important role in the immune system but has now been shown to also play a key role in brain development and schizophrenia risk according to Science Daily.

In 2014 researchers found more than 100 parts of the human genome which could cause Schizophrenia. However, recently it was discovered that there is a specific gene that has the strongest of risk factors. In an immense research conducted by scientists’, chromosome 6, in a region of DNA which is associated with infectious diseases, caused the scientists to believe schizophrenia is caused by an infectious agent.

This caused two scientists, McCarroll and Sekar, to find the unusual gene called C4. C4 is different from other genes because it has a high degree of structural variability. Not only that, the different numbers of copies and different types of the gene are different from person to person. They found that the C4 gene’s structure could predict the C4 gene activity in the brain. Once this was discovered, they used the information to infer the C4 gene activity in patients with and without schizophrenia. The data showed that patients who had particular structural forms of the C4 gene showed higher expression of that gene and therefore had a higher risk of developing schizophrenia.

With the data that McCarroll and Sekar found, they learned that C4 plays a key role in pruning synapses during maturation of the brain. In addition, C4 is necessary for another protein to be deposited onto synapses, which signals the synapses to be pruned. The data also suggested that if there is more C4 activity then there would be more synapses eliminated in the brain during a key time in development.

The work can help discuss why schizophrenia symptoms occur during late adolescence, a time where the human brain goes through a widespread of synapse pruning. The increase of synaptic pruning during adolescence and early adulthood, due to increased C4 activity, could lead to the understanding of symptoms seen in schizophrenia.These findings are also important because with the knowledge of what is causing an illness, then treatments can be made to help those affected.

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