A scientific breakthrough in the study of schizophrenia shows that the disease is likely caused by impaired brain development in womb. The problem is triggered by an abnormal gene pathway.
A research team at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo in New York has identified a connection between schizophrenia and an abnormal genetic process that involves a gene pathway, called nuclear FGFR1.
Lead author Michal K. Stachowiak, Ph.D and his colleagues aimed to uncover what genomic processes happen in the womb that might influence the onset of schizophrenia. Previous studies have linked the illness with genetic mutations, but this recent study adds new information in how to approach the identification and prevention of schizophrenia during the developmental process in the uterus.
For the research, the researchers collected skin cells from adults diagnosed with schizophrenia and from adults that were considered clinically healthy. Then, through reprogramming the cells into pluripotent stem cells, which became neuronal progenitor cells, they were able to observe the neuronal processes that take place in utero. They made the observations for both schizophrenics and healthy participants.
The study showed that in people with schizophrenia, while they were still in the womb, the abnormal nuclear FGFR1 pathway was making changes in several genes that have proven to be associated with the disorder. Of those genes, just one impacts brain development.
“In the last 10 years, genetic investigations into schizophrenia have been plagued by an ever-increasing number of mutations found in patients with the disease.”, stated Michal K. Stachowiak. “We show for the first time that there is, indeed, a common, dysregulated gene pathway at work here.”
These findings help not only by opening new doors for new treatments and prevention, but also for a better understanding of the disease. The researchers now have in plans to grow small brains through processes already known, which would help study schizophrenia dynamics in a live harmless and faster way.
Move over, there is now the possibility of developing a drug that could be administered to pregnant women who might give birth to babies with a high risk of the disorder.