Investigators at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City found several cohesive gene networks affected in schizophrenia and determined that these gene networks overlap with autism.
“Very interestingly, the networks that we find for schizophrenia and for autism are quite similar,” senior author Dennis Vitkup, PhD, told Medscape Medical News.
“This suggests that these 2 diseases, and probably many other psychiatric diseases, overlap in terms of the processes they perturb; they perturb some processes important for early brain development,” added Dr. Vitkup.
“The genes forming the networks are highly expressed in the brain, with higher brain expression during prenatal development,” the researchers say. “The identified networks are functionally related to genes previously implicated in schizophrenia, autism and intellectual disability.”
“Evidence of functional convergence among risk genes is consistent with the notion that schizophrenia and autism are both primarily diseases of neuronal communication,” Columbia University coinvestigator Joseph A. Gogos, MD, PhD, noted in a statement. “However, they have distinct clinical features, and the challenge remains to identify the critical neural circuits and mechanisms that differentiate them. This is a step in that direction,” he said.
Knowing the pathway or networks affected in schizophrenia and autism begins to “show us the footprint of the disease,” Dr. Vitkup commented. He predicts that many more genes involved in schizophrenia and autism will eventually be found — possibly as many as 1000 genes for each disorder — and many will likely fall into the networks and pathways they’ve identified.
“If you just focus on individual genes — 1 gene out of 1000 — doesn’t really mean much. But if you have a smaller number of pathways, then you can better identify the significance,” he said.
“This research,” he added, “helps us understand the pathways and biological processes that are affected, which can have clinical implications because it can help direct you toward drug targets or for prognostic purposes.”
–Megan Brooks, Medscape.com