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Gene Found Responsible for Differences in Schizophrenic People

Update Date: Mar 05, 2013 12:23 PM EST

Many mental illnesses are difficult to treat because there is very little known about their biological basis and their interaction with medication. Despite the recent discovery that linked five mental illnesses to sharing the same biological base (Researchers Find Genetic Link to Five Mental Disorders), mental illnesses, specifically schizophrenia, have left many unsure of their effects on the human brain since the symptoms appear to vary so dramatically between patients. But, a new study published in the journal, Molecular Psychiatry sheds light on understanding why symptoms might differ so much for schizophrenic patients specifically.

The study, headed by Dr. Aristotle Voineskos and Dr. James Kennedy discovered the role of a specific gene, known as microRNA-137 or MIR137, in contributing to different symptoms of schizophrenia. MIR137 has been linked to turning on or off the illness in certain people. Schizophrenia is one of the more complex mental illnesses because it varies so much between patient to patient. Since there exists such a huge inconsistency in behaviors between patients, schizophrenia has also been very hard to treat since people consequently react to different types of treatments dramatically as well. Based from this finding, at least now doctors and researchers can understand why schizophrenia develops in multiple ways.

The doctors observed the role of MIR137 in 510 participants who have already been diagnosed with schizophrenia. The researchers discovered that a certain version of the gene led to the manifestation of the mental illness at a younger age of 20.8 as opposed to the other age of 23.4 for people who did not have the specific version of MIR137. The researchers performed another study to see if the difference of three years affected the patients. They used MRIs and a diffusion tensor-magnetic resonance brain-imaging machine (DT-MRI) and found that patients with the version of MIR137 tended to have different brain features, such as a smaller hippocampus and larger lateral ventricles. These parts of the brain are vital in producing memory and protecting from diseases. The early development of the disease might be the cause of such different brain functions between schizophrenic patients.

People with the specific version of MIR137 may be more susceptible to certain diseases as well as develop different symptom of the illness. Based from these findings, the researchers hope that MIR137 can be prescreened in schizophrenic patients so that preventable measures can be taken early. 

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