This was originally published on Liberal America on March 2, 2016.
Scientists have discovered a gene that could cause schizophrenia. According to the Mayo Clinic, schizophrenia is a long-term brain disorder that causes the patient to interpret reality differently. Common symptoms include hallucinations, paranoia, delusions, and other disordered behaviour. It is estimated that schizophrenia affects 21 million people worldwide, with only half getting any treatment.
In the brain, thinking creates neural pathways; these are cells that connect different regions of the brain. They also relay signals to control sensation, movement, and many other functions. These pathways form as we grow and learn new things. There are cells that “declutter” your brain to get rid of unnecessary and redundant connections. This process is called “pruning.”
According to Scientific American, scientists believe that excessive pruning could lead to schizophrenia, and there is a certain gene associated with that. This does not mean that people with this gene will automatically develop the disease, but it definitely increases your likelihood of getting it. They used post-mortem brain samples to figure out how active the gene was in the deceased’s brain. They figured out that people that have a more active C4 gene were most at risk for developing schizophrenia. There are drugs in development that could target this gene.
This research could lead to better treatments for schizophrenia that target the actual cause of the disease. Treatments today just relieve symptoms. We are not anywhere near genetic therapy at the moment, but it is very exciting to think that we could have more focused treatment in the future. They have done some tests with mice to study brain development. The studies with mice show that the pruning occurred, but they could not see the process in action just yet. It will take more research and studies, but this is a promising development.