For decades healthcare professionals have been treating schizophrenia as one disease, coming up with therapy and other treatment programs based off of what we know. However, recent studies show that schizophrenia may actually be eight separate diseases.
Schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder that affects over 1 percent of the population. When it’s active, schizophrenia symptoms can potentially include hallucinations, delusions, trouble with concentration, and lack of motivation. Currently there is no known cure for the brain disorder, however research is leading to new treatments. Researchers and experts are recently discovering the causes of schizophrenia while closely studying genetics, behavioral research, and looking at the brain’s structure and function– All of which are helping to create new and more effective treatment therapies.
A study conducted by scientists at Washington University in St. Louis revealed new information on schizophrenia. The researchers analyzed the DNA of more than 4,000 people who have schizophrenia. In doing so, the research team has successfully identified distinct gene clusters that contribute to eight different classes of the brain disorder.
C. Robert Cloninger, MD, PhD, the Wallace Renard Professor of Psychiatry and Genetics, is the senior investigator in the study. In the article, linked above, he explained, “Genes don’t operate by themselves, they function in concert much like an orchestra, and to understand how they’re working, you have to know not just who the members of the orchestra are but how they interact.”
The study was done by matching certain DNA variations in people with and without schizophrenia to individual patients’ symptoms. Roughly 700,000 sites within the genome was analyzed in order for them to learn the interactions between individual genetic variations and how they produce the illness.
Co- investigator, Dragan Svrakic, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry at Washington University explained how this study is different from research done in the past because it does more than just looks at one association between genes and schizophrenia. This new discovery was made possible possibles because researchers studied these genes as if they didn’t act independently but as “they work in concert.”
The patients were grouped according to their different types of hallucinations, motivations and other symptoms. The severity of the illness was also taken into account. Researchers then found that specific symptoms were affiliated with distinct genetic conditions.
Once the team of researchers were able to collaborate genetic variations associated with the illness and the patients’ symptoms into groups, they were able to find distinctions between particular DNA variations and their specific symptoms.
It was then that the researchers discovered that schizophrenia is actually made up of eight qualitatively distinct disorders.
This discovery is a giant step in helping to identify treatments to specific DNA variations that cause symptoms. These methods can be used to further understand other common but complex disorders as well, Cloninger suggests.