TORONTO, March 5, 2013 /CNW/ - Some of the dramatic differences seen
among patients with schizophrenia may be explained by a single gene
that regulates a group of other schizophrenia risk genes. These
findings appear in a new study from the Centre for Addiction and Mental
The study revealed that people with schizophrenia who had a particular
version of the microRNA-137 gene (or MIR137), tended to develop the illness at a younger age and had distinct brain
features - both associated with poorer outcomes - compared to patients
who did not have this version. This work, led by Drs. Aristotle
Voineskos and James Kennedy, appears in the latest issue of Molecular Psychiatry.
Treating schizophrenia is particularly challenging as the illness can
vary from patient to patient. Some individuals stay hospitalized for
years, while others respond well to treatment.
"What's exciting about this study is that we could have a legitimate
answer as to why some of these differences occur," explained Dr.
Voineskos, a clinician-scientist in CAMH's Campbell Family Mental
Health Research Institute. "In the future, we might have the capability
of using this gene to tell us about prognosis and how a person might
respond to treatment."
"Drs. Voineskos and Kennedy's findings are very important as they
provide new insights into the genetic basis of this condition that
affects thousands of Canadians and their families," says Dr. Anthony
Phillips, Scientific Director at the Canadian Institutes of Health
Research Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction.
Also, until now, sex has been the strongest predictor of the age at
which schizophrenia develops in individuals. Typically, women tend to
develop the illness a few years later than men, and experience a milder
form of the disease.
"We showed that this gene has a bigger effect on age-at-onset than one's
gender has," said Dr. Voineskos, who heads the Kimel Family
Translational Imaging-Genetics Research Laboratory at CAMH. "This may
be a paradigm shift for the field."
The researchers studied MIR137 — a gene involved in turning on and off other schizophrenia-related
genes — in 510 individuals living with schizophrenia. The scientists
found that patients with a specific version of the gene tended to
develop the illness at a younger age, around 20.8 years of age,
compared to 23.4 years of age among those without this version.
"Although three years of difference in age-at-onset may not seem large,
those years are important in the final development of brain circuits in
the young adult," said Dr. Kennedy, Director of CAMH's Neuroscience
Research Department. "This can have major impact on disease outcome."
In a separate part of the study involving 213 people, the researchers
used magnetic resonance brain imaging (MRI) and diffusion tensor-MRI
(DT-MRI). They found that individuals with the particular gene version
tended to have unique brain features. These features included a smaller
hippocampus, which is a brain structure involved in memory, and larger
lateral ventricles, which are fluid-filled structures associated with
disease outcome. As well, these patients tended to have more impairment
in white matter tracts, which are structures connecting brain regions,
that serve as the information highways of the brain.
Developing tests that screen for versions of this gene could be helpful
in treating patients earlier and more effectively.
"We're hoping that in the near future we can use this combination of
genetics and brain imaging to predict how severe a version of illness
someone might have," said Dr. Voineskos. "This would allow us to plan
earlier for specific treatments and clinical service delivery and
pursue more personalized treatment options right from the start."
This research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research,
the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation and the Ontario Mental Health
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada's largest
mental health and addiction teaching hospital, as well as one of the
world's leading research centres in its field.
CAMH combines clinical care, research, education, policy development and
health promotion to help transform the lives of people affected by
mental health and addiction issues. CAMH is fully affiliated with the
University of Toronto, and is a Pan American Health Organization/World
Health Organization Collaborating Centre. For more information, please
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is the Government of
Canada's health research investment agency. CIHR's mission is to create
new scientific knowledge and to enable its translation into improved
health, more effective health services and products, and a strengthened
Canadian health care system. Composed of 13 Institutes, CIHR provides
leadership and support to more than 14,100 health researchers and
trainees across Canada.
SOURCE: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
For further information:
Media contact: Michael Torres; (416) 595-6015; firstname.lastname@example.org.