2013 NARSAD Grant Supports Discovery of Genetic Overlap Between Schizophrenia and Cognitive Ability

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Todd Lencz, Ph.D. - Brain and behavior research expert on schizophrenia
Todd Lencz, Ph.D.

A research team at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research has found a genetic overlap between the risk for developing schizophrenia and for some general cognitive deficits (without schizophrenia). As the illness of schizophrenia progresses, it can be characterized by a significant reduction in cognitive abilities and these symptoms have proven to be very difficult to treat. In an attempt to identify new targets for the development of better treatments for these symptoms, the research team at Feinstein used a molecular genetic approach to look for overlapping genetic mechanisms between general cognitive deficits and schizophrenia. Their findings were published online December 17th in Molecular Psychiatry.

Led by three-time NARSAD Grantee and Foundation Scientific Council Member, Anil K. Malhotra, M.D., Director of Psychiatry Research at Zucker Hillside Hospital, along with 2013 NARSAD Independent Investigator Grantee, Todd Lencz, Ph.D., Associate Investigator at the Zucker Hillside Hospital, and other colleagues at the Feinstein Institute, the team analyzed genetic data from samples of approximately 5,000 people. They utilized a large-scale, meta-analysis, genome-wide association study (GWAS) provided by the Cognitive Genomics consortium (COGENT). COGENT is an international consortium of nine teams of researchers across seven countries that was founded and is led by Dr. Malhotra.

The researchers pinpointed some specific genetic mechanisms that increase the risk for developing schizophrenia that were also at play in the samples of patients with lower general cognitive ability (without schizophrenia). They identified other genetic mechanisms linked to reduced cognitive ability that had previously been found to increase risk for developing schizophrenia. The researchers report that this is the first direct evidence for genetic overlap between schizophrenia risk genes and genes that regulate general cognitive ability, such as memory, attention and language skills.

"This research leads us to a deeper understanding of how schizophrenia affects the brain at the molecular level," said Dr. Lencz. "Our studies are designed to provide clues to the development of new treatments to improve the lives of our patients.” This research was supported by Dr. Lencz’s 2013 NARSAD Independent Investigator Grant (“Whole Genome Sequencing of Schizophrenia in a Founder Population”).

Read the abstract of this research.

Read more about this research in a press release issued by the Northshore-LIJ Health System.

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