Schizophrenia is a severe disabling psychiatric disease, which affects approximately 1 percent of the population. People with schizophrenia often suffer terrifying symptoms such as hearing internal voices, feelings of extreme paranoia and an inability to distinguish reality from fantasy. It is clear that schizophrenia has a strong genetic component, however analysis of individual genes alone will not give us a full understanding the causes of schizophrenia.
Irving Gottesman, one of the authors of this paper and originator of the now widely accepted polygenic model of schizophrenia explains,
"The investigation of individual genes in isolation has its limitations since virtually all important biological phenomena, from normal brain functioning to schizophrenia, are the result of complex systems. What is needed is a systems approach for understanding the development of schizophrenia."
This insight motivated Gottesman, and his colleagues Hans Moises and Tomas Zoega, to apply such an approach to previously published results of schizophrenia research.
Human brains are made up of two main types of cells, nerve cells, which carry electrical impulses around the brain and glia, which are important for the normal development of the brain in the young and the maintenance of nerve connections in adults. The authors argue that many of the genes implicated in the development of schizophrenia code for factors involved in the development of glia cells. In addition they hypothesize that some viral infections may cause additional weakening of glial cells, which in turn may lead to the disruption of brain cell connections and the development of schizophrenia.
"Epidemiological data indicate that all humans must harbor viruses in the glial cells of their brains, and since reproduction is a necessity for these viruses to survive, it seems reasonable to presume that they are reproducing at low levels in glial cells and that this results in an additional weakening of glial functioning", explains Moises.
This new provocative hypothesis bridges the gap between several previously unrelated schizophrenia hypotheses, most notably the genetic, the neurodevelopmental and the virus hypotheses, thereby providing a unifying explanation for the development of schizophrenia. It is hoped that by testing this hypothesis in the laboratory, researchers will come up with new ways of treating this debilitating brain disease.
The new hypothesis is freely available in the peer-reviewed open access journal BMC Psychiatry - http://www.
Dr. Hans W. Moises is a Stanford-trained gene researcher, Professor of Psychiatry, and director of the molecular genetics laboratory at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Kiel in Germany.
Dr. Tomas Zoega is a Harvard trained psychiatric researcher at the Department of Psychiatry, National University of Iceland in Reykjavik.
Dr. Irving I. Gottesman is an internationally acclaimed behavioral geneticist. He currently holds an endowed chair in adult psychiatry at the University of Minnesota (USA) and is author of the award-winning book, Schizophrenia Genesis - The Origins of Madness.
BioMed Central (http://www.