Saturday, July 17, 2010

Largest effort to find gene-environment interactions underlying schizophrenia risk

An article posted on July 16th by
At the 23rd ECNP Congress 2010 in Amsterdam, Professor Dr. Jim van Os, Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Neuropsychology at Maastricht University Medical Centre, The Netherlands, will present the EU-GEI project, involving more than 7,500 patients and their families, which brings together a multidisciplinary research team from 15 countries in the largest effort to date to find gene-environment interactions underlying schizophrenia risk. In particular, he will explain the development of tools that will make it possible to monitor, and possibly modify, vulnerability at the behavioural level, thus preventing transition to overt illness.

Schizophrenia and related psychotic disorders are the most mysterious and costliest of mental disorders in terms of human suffering and societal expenditure, representing a major challenge to scientists. Until recently, researchers had relatively few starting points in trying to unravel the causes of psychosis and to identify better treatments. While epidemiological research has characterised powerful environmental effects on schizophrenia risk, twin and family studies have established that more than half of the vulnerability for schizophrenia is of genetic origin. However, despite enormous investments, it has proven extremely difficult to identify molecular genetic variants underlying schizophrenia liability. According to the model of gene-environment interaction, genes influencing schizophrenia risk may do so indirectly by making individuals more sensitive to the effects of causal environmental risk factors (e.g. urbanisation, migration, cannabis use, childhood trauma). Now, for the first time, a focused scientific collaboration has been organised in Europe in order to elucidate the causes of schizophrenia, focussing on both genes and environments in the same research project.

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