A particularly striking age-related difference in co-expression was found in a group of 30 genes related to developmental processes of the nervous system. Normally these genes are turned off as a person ages, but in schizophrenia patients the genes remain active. This critical finding strongly suggests that age-related aberrant regulation of genes important for development can explain at least part of the manifestation of schizophrenia.
Thomas explained that these findings help to refine the developmental hypothesis of schizophrenia, which states that one or more pathogenic "triggers" occur during critical periods of development to increase risk of the disease. Specifically, this work indicates that abnormal gene expression in developmentally related genes might be a significant pathogenic trigger, occurring over a broader time-scale than expected.
"Rather than a pathological trigger occurring at a critical developmental time point," said Thomas, "the trigger is ongoing throughout development and aging."
Furthermore, Thomas noted that the new study supports early intervention and treatment of schizophrenia. Treatment approaches aimed at averting gene expression changes and altering the course of the disease could be specifically tailored to the age of the patient.
|Contact: Keith McKeown|
Scripps Research Institute