Schizophrenia: many diseases in one

Daily Beast looks over Washington University research that’s found that the singular diagnosis of schizophrenia is actually a compound disease, caused by eight different genetic disorders that “cluster” into different combinations:

As senior investigator Dr. C. Robert Cloninger notes, “[genes] don’t work by themselves. They function in concert much like an orchestra, and to understand how they’re working, you have to know not just who the members of the orchestra are but how they interact.” Rather than focusing on the individual genes that have been associated with schizophrenia, this team looked instead at the interactions between genes in order to isolate the causes of the illness.

“There isn’t just this one kind of schizophrenia but actually several different syndromes where some people have positive symptoms like hallucinations and delusions [and] others have negative symptoms where they’re not able to think logically and these different syndromes are associated with different groups of genes.” Instead of looking for one gene that could account for all of the possible configurations of schizophrenic symptoms, Cloninger and his colleagues looked at the way in which different configurations of genetic variations produce different symptoms in individual patients.

By sorting the patients in their study by their symptomatology, the research team at Washington University could identify which “clusters of genetic variations” led to which symptoms. As [computer scientist] Dr. Igor Zwir notes in the Washington University press release, “it soon may be possible to target treatments to specific pathways that cause problems.” And as research into gene therapy for schizophrenia continues, Washington University’s findings will give researchers new pathways to pursue to target symptoms of schizophrenia.

More on the original study – which combines genetics and psychology with lots of number crunching and computer analysis – here.