Researchers at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research of Northshore LIJ recently discovered evidence of a genetic overlap between schizophrenia and general cognitive ability.
Their findings were published online December 17 in the Journal Molecular Psychiatry.
Anil Malhotra, MD, director of psychiatry research at Zucker Hillside Hospital and researcher of the Feinstein Institute, along with Todd Lencz, PhD, associate investigator at the Zucker Hillside Hospital and the Feinstein Institute, set out to determine whether genetic indicators of lower cognitive ability and functioning were related to genetic markers of heightened schizophrenic risk.
Their research involved a comprehensive meta-analysis involving a genome-wide association study (GWAS) of genetic material from 5,000 persons courtesy of the Cognitive Genomics consorTium (COGENT). COGENT, led by Dr. Malhotra, is an international organization of nine groups of researchers in seven countries. COGENT demonstrated that patients who suffered from schizophrenia also had diminished cognitive ability. This is the first direct evidence for genetic overlap between schizophrenia risk genes and genes that control general cognitive ability, such as attention, memory, and language function. The results demonstrate molecular confirmation of this genetic overlap and deeper knowledge into the progression and natural course of schizophrenia during development.
Based on available data from the World Health Organization, approximately 2.2 million people in the US–and up to 24 million persons worldwide–are living with schizophrenia, a chronic, severe and disabling brain disorder. People with schizophrenia have a marked decrease in overall cognitive abilities, and as a result have difficulty with keeping jobs, finishing school, and moving forward in life.
Earlier research suggested likely cognitive irregularities in previously undiagnosed and untreated relatives of those affected with schizophrenia, which infers that there may be a common pathway or possibility of a shared genetic footprint between risk for schizophrenia and cognitive traits. Previous research had not investigated this link or possibility for a shared genetic footprint on a molecular level.
“This research leads us to a deeper understanding of how schizophrenia affects the brain at the molecular level,” said Dr. Lencz. “Our studies are designed to provide clues to the development of new treatments to improve the lives of our patients.”
This article first appeared on ‘Forbes’ on 20 December 2013.