UCLA Psychiatrists Discover Link Between Autism And Schizophrenia In New Study

University of California doctors have successfully pinpointed a specific gene mutation responsible for various psychiatric disorders in a recently published study. Scientists are hopeful this discovery will lead to better diagnosis and treatment of disorders like autism and schizophrenia the near future.

Professors involved in this study analyzed the brain tissue of over 700 recently deceased patients. The conditions these patients suffered from ranged from major depression and bipolar disorder to schizophrenia and autism. There were also brain tissues from alcoholic patients as well as a few control patients who had no major psychiatric disorders.

Researchers were particularly interested in the RNA present in these brain tissues. Since RNA is involved in interpreting and expressing DNA in all of our cells, professors thought that by studying RNA they would get a clearer picture of the molecular activity in the patients’ brains.

Interestingly, researchers soon discovered there were similarities in the genetic makeup of people with psychiatric disorders that aren’t often classified together. One of the most surprising links study authors noted was between schizophrenia and autism.

Not all psychiatric disorders, however, had the same molecular profiles. For instance, study authors note that major depression patients had a totally distinct molecular structure.

Thanks to this research, doctors now know there are genetic causes behind many psychiatric disorders, some of which share molecular profiles. Now doctors have to figure out what causes these genetic changes so they can develop better treatments for people suffering from these conditions.

Professors Daniel Geschwind and Michael Gandal were the head authors on this study. Dr. Geschwind teaches neurology at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and Dr. Gandal works as a psychiatrist at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

Both the National Institute of Mental Health and the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative were the major donors behind this study. UCLA also received funding from the Stephen R. Mallory Schizophrenia Research Award.

This full study was published in the February 2018 edition of Science under the title, “Shared molecular neuropathology across major psychiatric disorders parallels polygenic overlap.”

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