"One of the key issues in any genetic study is to distinguish individuals who are gene carriers from individuals who are not gene carriers," explained Dr. Levy. In single gene disorders, such as cystic fibrosis and Huntington's disease, 25 percent and 50 percent of family members, respectively, have the same illness. In contrast, only 6.5 percent of family members of people with schizophrenia actually have the illness, which means most relatives don't have symptoms of the illness but may still be gene carriers.
To find the relatives who are likely carriers of genes for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, Dr. Levy and her colleagues have zeroed in on four discernable schizophrenia-related traits that occur in well family members at a much higher rate than schizophrenia itself: difficulty following a slow moving target with one's eyes, syntax errors or idiosyncratic use of language, subtle anomalies involving the midline of the face , and difficulty filtering out noises and other irrelevant stimuli (a condition known as sensory gating).
These traits, according to Dr. Levy, are much more common in families with schizophrenia. For example, idiosyncratic use of language (a trait similar to the thought disorder observed in schizophrenia) occurs in 37 percent of clinically unaffected first-degree relatives of individuals with schizophrenia, a rate that is almost six times higher than schizophrenia in the same families. When the rates for thought disorder and schizophrenia and relate
|Contact: Kristen Simone|
NARSAD, The Mental Health Research Association