The Mental Health Minute

Articles and news about mental health issues

Age-Associated Defects in Schizophrenia: Gene Network-Based Analysis Reveals Unexpected Results

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Here’s an article I found about ongoing research into Schizophrenia.  I know that this is not exactly light reading, but I found this study to be very interesting and I hoped you would also enjoy this information.    Besides the actual results of this study, it is always elating to see proof positive of ongoing research into mental illness.

For ages, mental illness was just “swept under the carpet” with very little legitimate research done.  So, when you do find good studies with interesting results, you naturally want to share them.

I hope you enjoy reading this below.   Let me know what you think, won’t you?


ScienceDaily (Mar. 2, 2010) — The underlying causes of the debilitating psychiatric disorder schizophrenia remain poorly understood. In a new study published online March 2, 2010 in Genome Research, however, scientists report that a powerful gene network analysis has revealed surprising new insights into how gene regulation and age play a role in schizophrenia.

Researchers are actively working to identify the direct cause of schizophrenia, likely rooted in interactions between genes and the environment resulting in abnormal gene expression in the central nervous system. Scientists have been studying expression changes in schizophrenia on an individual gene basis, yet this strategy has explained only a portion of the genetic risk.

In the new work, a team of researchers led by Associate Professor Elizabeth Thomas of The Scripps Research Institute has taken a novel approach to this problem, performing a gene network-based analysis that revealed surprising insight into schizophrenia development.

The group analyzed gene expression data from the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain associated with schizophrenia, sampled post-mortem from normal individuals and schizophrenia patients ranging from 19 to 81 years old. However, instead of just looking at genes individually, Thomas and colleagues at the Scripps Translational Science Institute, Nicholas Schork and Ali Torkamani, considered interactions between genes, as well as groups of genes that showed similar patterns of expression, to identify dysfunctional cellular pathways in schizophrenia.

“Once gene co-expression networks are identified,” said Thomas, “we can then ask how they are affected by factors such as age or drug treatment, or if they are associated with particular cell types in the brain.”

The gene network analysis suggested that normal individuals and schizophrenia patients have an unexpectedly similar connectivity between genes, but the most surprising finding was a significant link between aging and gene expression patterns in schizophrenia. The team identified several groups of co-expressed genes that behaved differently in schizophrenia patients compared to normal subjects when age was considered.

A particularly striking age-related difference in co-expression was found in a group of 30 genes related to developmental processes of the nervous system. Normally these genes are turned off as a person ages, but in schizophrenia patients the genes remain active. This critical finding strongly suggests that age-related aberrant regulation of genes important for development can explain at least part of the manifestation of schizophrenia.

Thomas explained that these findings help to refine the developmental hypothesis of schizophrenia, which states that one or more pathogenic “triggers” occur during critical periods of development to increase risk of the disease. Specifically, this work indicates that abnormal gene expression in developmentally related genes might be a significant pathogenic trigger, occurring over a broader time-scale than expected.

“Rather than a pathological trigger occurring at a critical developmental time point,” said Thomas, “the trigger is ongoing throughout development and aging.”

Furthermore, Thomas noted that the new study supports early intervention and treatment of schizophrenia. Treatment approaches aimed at averting gene expression changes and altering the course of the disease could be specifically tailored to the age of the patient.

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March 6, 2010 - Posted by | Mental Health | , , , ,


  1. I think you forget the 5% cumulative chance of developing Tardive dyskinesia

    “The latest estimate from the American Psychiatric Association (1992, p. 68) indicates a rate for all patients of five per cent per year, so that 15 per cent of patients develop tardive dyskinesia within only three years. In long-term studies, the prevalence of tardive dyskinesia often exceeds 50 per cent of all treated patients and is probably much higher. The disease affects people of all ages, including children, but among older patients rates escalate. In a controlled study, 41 per cent of patients aged 65 and older developed tardive dyskinesia in a mere 24 months (Yassa et al., 1988).

    Comment by markps2 | March 8, 2010 | Reply

    • Tardive dyskinesia is real and can be permanent, so your point is valid. However, just because there is a 5% chance of having this side effect is not reason to discount or avoid these medications. Tylenol will kill your liver and does not require an overdose to do so. Alcohol will also kill your liver.

      It seems to me that informed consumption is called for in this case. When someone is started on a psychotropic medication, that person should be monitored quite carefully until their reaction to the medication is understood. Even after taking these meds for some time, medication management needs to continue to avoid the possibility of such problems. If caught early, these effects are reversible most of the time and in most people.

      Comment by Shirley Williams | March 8, 2010 | Reply

  2. “informed consumption is called for”
    You are joking right?
    Psych patients can not say “no”, they are mentally ill remember?
    They don’t know wrong from right and must be “helped”.

    Comment by markps2 | March 11, 2010 | Reply

  3. I found the article you posted to be fascinating. I am glad to know that research is being done in this area. However, when they talk about the link between genes and aging – I assume they mean ‘older’ people with schizophrenia? Do you know if there is any research being done concerning children with this disease?

    . . .

    As for the comment regarding Tardive dyskinesia … It is a scary side effect of most anti psychotic medication. My son was hospitalized years ago when he started to have ‘ticks’ & unusual movements that he couldn’t control while he was taking risperdal. – However, there are risks (some quite dangerous) AND benefits to these meds. But then again there are risks with ANY medication. One must choose what is best for them. What is right for you, may not be for someone else…


    Comment by Victoria | March 11, 2010 | Reply

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