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Clinical and Research News
NIMH Research Effort to Focus On Genetics of Schizophrenia
Psychiatric News
Volume 38 Number 20 page 28-28

How does a gene variant encode for schizophrenia? A new intramural research program at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) will focus on answering that complex question over the next six to eight years.

Daniel Weinberger, M.D., chief of the NIMH Clinical Brain Disorders Branch, will direct the new program, which will look at the genetics and neurobiology of cognition and psychosis. Weinberger is a psychiatrist and neurologist.

Multidisciplinary teams will use mouse, fruit-fly, and cell-culture models; clinical studies; and brain imaging to understand how genetic variations express themselves in cells, molecules, and neurobiological systems.

"Genes don’t directly encode for the hallucinations, delusions, and blunted affect of schizophrenia," said Weinberger in a press release announcing the project. "Rather, there is a very complicated path between a gene’s influence on the regulation and function of a protein and such psychiatric phenomena."

At least six genes are considered candidates worthy of further research, with each contributing about 3 percent to 4 percent of the variance in vulnerability to schizophrenia, according to Weinberger. "The new studies may identify biological tests and ways to turn on or off genes that could lead to strategies to prevent or treat schizophrenia," he said.

"Such findings will serve to stimulate spin-off studies by extramural or grant-supported researchers," said NIMH director Thomas Insel, M.D.

The new intramural program has a budget of at least $6 million annually over the eight to 10 years over which it will extend. The funds will be derived mainly from other intramural funds, according to NIMH spokesperson Jules Ascher.

A panel of advisors to the project includes Christopher Austin, M.D., a senior advisor at the National Human Genome Research Institute; David Goldman, M.D., chief of the Laboratory of Neurogenetics of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; Jeffrey Lieberman, M.D., psychiatry professor and vice chair for research at the University of North Carolina; and Eric Nestler, M.D., professor and chair of the psychiatry department at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

The NIMH press release is posted on the Web at www.nimh.nih.gov/events/schizgeneleads.cfm.

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