New Discovery On Link Between Early Life Stress and Genetic Susceptibility in Schizophrenia

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Guo-li Ming, M.D., Ph.D.
Guo-li Ming, M.D., Ph.D.

In findings recently published in Cell, 2010 NARSAD Independent Investigator Grantee, Guo-li Ming, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, demonstrate that people are nearly one and a half times more likely to develop schizophrenia when they have a genetic risk factor and experience certain types of stress early in life. The researchers focused on the interaction of two factors long implicated in the disease: Disrupted-in-Schizophrenia 1 (DISC1) protein, which is important for brain development, and GABA, a brain chemical needed for normal brain function. Using mice models to find how these factors impact brain development and disease susceptibility, they then compared their initial results with the genetic sequences of 2,961 schizophrenia patients and healthy people from Scotland, Germany and the United States.

"Our study suggests that if people have a single genetic risk factor alone or a traumatic environment in very early childhood alone, they may not develop mental disorders like schizophrenia," says Guo-li Ming, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurology and member of the Institute for Cell Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "But the findings also suggest that someone who carries the genetic risk factor and experiences certain kinds of stress early in life may be more likely to develop the disease." Co-authoring the results was 2008 NARSAD Independent Investigator Grantee, Hongjun Song, Ph.D., Director of the Stem Cell Program at the Institute for Cell Engineering who says, "Now that we have identified the precise genetic risks, we can rationally search for drugs that correct these defects.”

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