Blackwell Publishing Journal Backfiles 1879-2005
1. Schizophrenia is a chronic, disabling brain disease that affects approximately 1% of the world’s population. It is characterized by delusions, hallucinations and formal thought disorder, together with a decline in socio-occupational functioning. While the causes for schizophrenia remain unknown, evidence from family, twin and adoption studies clearly demonstrates that it aggregates in families, with this clustering largely attributable to genetic rather than cultural or environmental factors. Identifying the genes involved, however, has proven to be a difficult task because schizophrenia is a complex trait characterized by an imprecise phenotype, the existence of phenocopies and the presence of low disease penetrance.2. The current working hypothesis for schizophrenia causation is that multiple genes of small to moderate effect confer compounding risk through interactions with each other and with non-genetic risk factors. The same genes may be commonly involved in conferring risk across populations or they may vary in number and strength between different populations. To search for evidence of such genetic loci, both candidate gene and genome-wide linkage studies have been used in clinical cohorts collected from a variety of populations. Collectively, these works provide some evidence for the involvement of a number of specific genes (e.g. the 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) type 2a receptor (5-HT2a) gene and the dopamine D3 receptor gene) and as yet unidentified factors localized to specific chromosomal regions, including 6p, 6q, 8p, 13q and 22q. These data provide suggestive, but no conclusive, evidence for causative genes.3. To enable further progress there is a need to: (i) collect fine-grained clinical datasets while searching the schizophrenia phenotype for subgroups or dimensions that may provide a more direct route to causative genes; and (ii) integrate recent refinements in molecular genetic technology, including modern composite marker maps, DNA expression assays and relevant animal models, while using the latest analytical techniques to extract maximum information in order to help distinguish a true result from a false-positive finding.
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