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Madness- the Genius Connection

As they say, there is a fine line between genius and madness and this may well be true according// to a new study.

Mental health workers have always been baffled by one of the most common disorders of mental health- schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is said to affect one in 100 persons and causes disordered ideas, beliefs, and experiences. It strikes men at the age 15 to 25, and women at 25 to 35.

Scientists working for U.S National Institute of Mental Health found out that almost three fourths of 257 persons diagnosed with schizophrenia contained at least one copy of the gene variant DARPP-32.

This gene is responsible for enhancing the ability of the brain to think by improving information processing. A region of the brain called the prefrontal cortex carries this out.

At the same time this gene is also associated with shaping and controlling a circuit in the brain that links the prefrontal cortex with another region of the brain, the striatum. This circuit affects brain functions that play an important part in schizophrenia like motivation, and certain types of learning.

Daniel Weinberger lead author of the study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, says it was possible that while a more efficient link between the prefrontal cortex and striatum normally improves cognitive ability; it may have a negative effect when other genetic and environmental factors interfere.

The result could be a predisposition to schizophrenia, which is known to be caused by a combination of genes and a person’s environment.

Weinberger says: "Our results raise the question of whether a gene variant favored by evolution, that would normally confer advantage, may translate into a disadvantage if the prefrontal cortex is impaired, as in schizophrenia.

"Normally, enhanced cortex connectivity with the striatum would provide increased flexibility, working memory capacity and executive cont rol.

"But if other genes and environmental events conspire to render the cortex incapable of handling such information, it could backfire - resulting in the neural equivalent of a superhighway to a dead end."

Support for the conclusion of this study can be garnered from a hall of fame that depicts persons who were considered as geniuses and who had schizophrenia.

They include John Nash, Nobel laureate for economics, Van Gogh the renowned painter, author Jack Kerouac and brilliant Russian dancer Vaclav Nijinsky.

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of mental health charity Sane opines: The more we can discover about the origins of schizophrenia and why this devastating condition has continued to disable the lives of many worldwide, the close we will get to finding more effective treatments and an eventual cure."

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