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Psychosis-related gene variant linked to creativity in healthy people?

5 October 2009
Appeared in BioNews 528

A variant of the neuregulin 1 gene associated with an increased risk of psychosis, may positively affect the creative capacity of healthy people, scientists from Semmelweis University in Hungary suggest in a recent article in the journal Psychological Science. However, the limitations of this small study mean that more research will be necessary to confirm this preliminary finding.

The study focussed on a particular genetic variation, or SNP, found within the control 'promoter' region of the neuregulin 1 gene. There are two different versions of this variant, called C or T. We all have two copies of the gene, so a person can either have two T's, two C's or one of each (referred to as T/T, C/C or C/T 'genotypes'). Only the T/T genotype has been associated with psychosis. Psychosis is a prominent symptom of schizophrenia, and there is also evidence that some people with schizophrenia can be exceptionally creative.

In this study, the researchers explored the connection between psychosis and creativity and found that people with the T/T genotype are on average more creative than those with the C/T or C/C genotype. So, they say, it is not the psychosis or schizophrenia per se that is increasing a person's creativity, but their genetic makeup that is influencing both psychosis and creativity.

The researchers hypothesise that the T/T genotype may reduce activity in the prefrontal cortex. This brain area normally has a role in inhibiting our impulses, so decreasing its activity may stimulate creative outbursts. Reduced inhibition is also known to have a role in schizophrenia.

Nevertheless, only 25 of the subjects were of the T/T genotype, which is a very small number for a genetic study. This means there is a possibility that their results reflect coincidence rather than scientific fact.

Another flaw in this study is that it is limited to subjects who judge themselves to be highly creative. A self-assessment also formed part of the creativity measure in the study. This means that it is not possible to generalise the results to people who are not, or do not think they are, particularly creative. Dr Bernard Crespi, a behavioural geneticist at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada commented: 'This is a very interesting study with remarkably strong results, though it must be replicated in an independent population before the results can be accepted with confidence'.
Artistic tendencies linked to 'schizophrenia gene'
New Scientist |  16 July 2009
Fine line between genius and madness, scientists find
The Daily Telegraph |  30 September 2009
Mad genius: Study suggests link between psychosis and creativity
Science News |  28 September 2009
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