Among people with schizophrenia, these mutations were likely to alter genes that help in brain development. While each mutation was unique and affected different genes, several mutations were related to parts of the brain that control neurobiological development, the researchers found.
McClellan noted that many different mutations in many genes can disrupt brain development resulting in schizophrenia. Therefore, in people with schizophrenia, the genetic causes may be different for different people, he said.
"If it's the case that most people have a different genetic cause for schizophrenia, the way that most research is done now isn't going to work," McClellan said. Current research is designed to find commonalities between people with schizophrenia, he said, adding, "That may not be the best way to go."
The encouraging news is that new technologies are available that can find these rare gene mutations in individual patients with schizophrenia. And, as these technologies improve, it may one day be possible to develop new treatments targeted for specific genes in affected individuals, McClellan said.
One mental-health expert thinks these findings could serve as a breakthrough in understanding schizophrenia.
"This is a groundbreaking study which presents a novel approach to identifying genetic factors predisposing to schizophrenia," said Dr. Daphne Holt, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School, and associate director of the Massachusetts General Hospital First Episode and Early Psychosis Program.
"The idea that multiple rare mutations may account
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