Scientists at the Medical Research Council Human Genetics Unit, Edinburgh, have identified two altered genes that contribute to the development of schizophrenia. The team, led by Professor David Porteous, found that members of a Scottish family affected by the illness had altered versions of two genes found on human chromosome 1. The results are published in this month's issue of Human Molecular Genetics.
Although other parts of the human genome have previously been implicated in schizophrenia, this is the first time specific genes have been identified. The researchers found that half of the family members with the altered genes, named Disrupted-in-Schizophrenia (DISC) 1 and 2, developed the disorder. But other, non-genetic triggers are also involved - half of those with the altered genes did not develop schizophrenia.
Professor Porteous said there was irrefutable evidence that more than two genes were involved in schizophrenia. 'What we don't know at the moment is whether we are looking for five or six genes, or 50 or 60' he said.
Ian Harper, of the National Schizophrenia Fellowship in Scotland, said there was no ethical reason to screen people for the disease because there was no cure at present. 'We welcome any progress in the understanding of the disease but we have to wait and see if it can improve treatment' he added.