In a landmark study, scientists have found a molecular process in the brain that triggers schizophrenia.
The discovery is a huge breakthrough in learning about the disorder; discovery of this new genetic pathway will likely reveal what the neurological problem is. The potential for early detection, and new treatments that were unthinkable just a year ago, are now possible.
Steven Hyman, director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, calls it “the most significant mechanistic study about schizophrenia ever.”
“I’m a crusty, old, curmudgeonly skeptic,” he said. “But I’m almost giddy about these findings.”
Researchers found a person’s chance of having schizophrenia is much higher if they’ve inherited a gene important to “synaptic pruning”. This is when brain cell connections dissipate during adolescence as they’re no longer needed. For a person with schizophrenia, the pruning goes out of control, resulting in a loss of grey matter/synapses.
“It’s taking what has been a black box . . . and letting us peek inside for the first time. And that is amazingly consequential,” said Eric Lander, founding director of the Broad Institute.
Researchers can now study and approach the disorder in new ways, rather than focusing on the ‘psychotic’ aspect, which is a single symptom of many.