Gene variant links schizophrenia, alcoholism and bipolar disorder

A rare gene variant could significantly increase risk for developing schizophrenia, alcoholism and bipolar disorder, a University College London study reports.

The research was based on a genetic analysis of 4,971 people who were diagnosed with one of the three disorders. A total of 1,309 healthy control subjects were also studied.

People with the specific gene variant, GRM3, were found to be two to three times more likely to develop schizophrenia or alcohol dependence. Those who have the gene are also three times more likely to develop bipolar disorder, researchers reported in Psychiatric Genetics.

GRM3 and schizophrenia

Another global study on GRM3 found that 108 different genetic locations were associated with schizophrenia, but a specific mutation has only been found on GRM3.

"We could be looking at the next big drug target for treating mental illness," said co-author of both studies, Professor David Curtis of UCL Psychiatry. "The work opens up new ways to prevent and treat mental illnesses by revealing the mechanisms involved in their development. The result for GRM3 from the consortium is particularly compelling, as the odds of this occurring by chance are only one in a billion."

Glutamate, like dopamine, is a chemical that brain cells use to communicate with one another. According to the researchers, GRM3 codes for a protein that brain cells use to detect glutamate. Predisposition to schizophrenia, then, may have something to do with glutamate transmission.

"Drug treatments for schizophrenia have barely changed over the past few decades, as they still target dopamine receptors," said co-author Dr. Andrew McQuillin. "Schizophrenia treatments targeting glutamate receptors have been tested in the past without success. However, they might be more effective at treating patient groups with mutations in glutamate receptors such as GRM3."

Source: University College London
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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