After almost 20 years of research, Australian and Indian scientists have identified a new gene directly linked to schizophrenia.
Scientists from the University of Queensland in Australia and a team of Indian researchers searched the genomes of over 3,000 individuals and found those with schizophrenia were more likely to have a particular genetic variation.
The team of Indian researchers was led by Rangaswamy Thara, co-founder and director of the Chennai-based Schizophrenia Research Foundation.
Bryan Mowry from the university said such studies had predominantly been done in populations with European ancestry, with more than 100 schizophrenia-associated variants identified previously.
“Looking at other populations can highlight different parts of the genome with a more robust association with the disease,” Mowry said.
”This study identified a gene called NAPRT1 that encodes an enzyme involved in vitamin B3 metabolism – we were also able to find this gene in a large genomic dataset of schizophrenia patients with European ancestry,” he said.
“When we knocked out the NAPRT1 gene in zebrafish, brain development of the fish was impaired – we are now working to understand more deeply how this gene functions in the brain,” Mowry said.
He said that much of the variation in schizophrenia, which occurred in about one per cent of the population, was due to genetic factors.
“Schizophrenia strikes at the heart of what it means to be human – it has devastating impacts on the sufferer and their ability to function,” he said.
“Our studies aim to shed more light on what makes people susceptible to schizophrenia and possible treatments for the future,” Mowry said.
According to a statement released by the university, Mowry and Thara met in the late 1990s when they discussed studying a population in India — both are practising psychiatrists and see first-hand the impact of schizophrenia on patients’ lives, their families and communities.
“Thara is a driving force for research into schizophrenia in India and her team in Chennai has been central in recruiting patients, while QBI has been able to fund the processing of blood samples they’ve collected,” Mowry said.
QBI director Pankaj Sah commended the collaborative effort of the team, which included Schizophrenia Research Foundation (SCARF) joint director Sujit John who co-ordinated the recruitment of study participants, and QBI’s Sathish Periyasamy who analysed the data.
“This is a perfect example of how international collaboration can produce a significant advances through a shared vision to leverage unique strengths in both countries and would not have been possible without the major investment in time of these investigators over the past 18 years,” Sah said.