Altered Gene may Increase Schizophrenia Risk

April 13, 2009

A variation in genetic expression may lead to an increased risk for schizophrenia, according to new research from Rutgers University.

A variation in genetic expression may lead to an increased risk for schizophrenia, according to new research from Rutgers University.

Linda Brzustowicz, professor of genetics, and colleagues studied the NOS1AP gene, previously known as CAPON, in 24 Canadian families in which multiple people had schizophrenia, all with variants of the NOS1AP gene.

The researchers used a statistical technique to reduce the number of NOS1AP gene variants that may lead to schizophrenia from 60 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to three. When the three SNPs were cultured separately in cells derived from human brain tissue, a “dramatic” increase in expression was seen in one particular SNP.

The presence of the altered gene is greater in people with schizophrenia than in the general population, Brzustowicz said. She cited the Canadian families as an example, as the variant was seen at a frequency of 55% in people who had the disease.

Because schizophrenia is not a single-gene disorder, and environmental factors can play a role in development of the disease, more research must be done, although the discover of this genetic variant is significant, the researchers said.

In addition, Brzustowicz says, having the altered gene does not automatically mean that you will develop schizophrenia. The NOS1AP gene and its variants are present in about 40% of the general population, she said.

Bonnie Firestein, professor, Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience at Rutgers, is conducting further research to examine how increased expression of the NOS1AP gene “alters the way neurons branch.” They are examining samples from the National Institute of Mental Health’s collection of cell lines in the Rutgers University Cell and DNA Repository, which includes samples from Asian, Caucasian, African American, and Hispanic people with schizophrenia.