Schizophrenia and memory: how a network of genes might influence the development of mental illness

As a cognitive disorder, schizophrenia is often linked to problems with memory.

This idea of "working memory," which allows someone to memorize a name, place, or phone number, seems to be disturbed in patients with mental illness, a new study published in the journal Neuron reports.

Scientists at the Transfaculty Research Platform Molecular and Cognitive Neurosciences (MCN) at the University of Basel and the Psychiatric University Clinics have discovered a network of genes that controls how neurons govern working memory - and therefore the brain activity that occurs in schizophrenics.

Ion channels key

Researchers analyzed over 2,800 healthy participants of different ages and then 32,000 patients who included patients both with and without schizophrenia. Their goal? To identify the genetic basis for working memory. They found that in one particular group of genes, the ion channels were of particular relevance because of their ability to regulate the electric excitability of neurons.

Then the researchers studied brain activity in 700 healthy participants through functional imaging while the subjects were engaged in working memory tasks. They found that the ion channels in the same group of genes noticed before were linked strongly to two brain regions correlated with working memory: the cerebrum and cerebellum. If there are malfunctions in this area, the researchers concluded, this could contribute to cognitive decline where memory is concerned, but also symptoms of schizophrenia.

Drug development

Researchers said the study could contribute to new drug developments that focus on the treatment of memory-related mental illness.

"The results of this study contribute to the understanding of the molecular basis of memory processes and psychiatric disorders," a press release on the study stated.

Source: Science Daily

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