Under the Microscope: Schizophrenia Discovered to Be Eight Different Disorders


A breakthrough in mental health will lead to better patient care for thousands.

A recent study from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that the mental health disorder known as schizophrenia is actually eight separate genetic disorders. 

The study was led by C. Robert Cloninger and the results were published in The American Journal of Psychiatry. The study consisted of analyzing the genomes of 4,200 patients diagnosed with schizophrenia, and 3,800 controls. The patients were categorized by the type of symptoms experienced and the severity level. After combing through the patients’ genomes, researchers discovered that it was no small amount of genes causing the symptoms, but 42 genetic clusters. 

Even more amazing was that these clusters weren’t responsible for one, but eight different genetic disorders. In a press release, Cloninger explained the intricacies of genese and how they work together to cause this type of disorder.

“Genes don’t operate by themselves. They function in concert much like an orchestra, and to understand how they’re working, you have to know not just who the members of the orchestra are but how they interact," Cloninger said. 

“What we’ve done here, after a decade of frustration in the field of psychiatric genetics, is identify the way genes interact with each other, how the ‘orchestra’ is either harmonious and leads to health, or disorganized in ways that lead to distinct classes of schizophrenia.”

This new discovery comes after long years of failed research. While some studies showed some correlation between genes and schizophrenia, scientists were never able to accurately pinpoint the genes consistently. This comes as no surprise in light of recent developments.

By analyzing the single nucleotide polymorphisms, the part of the genome where it is common for variation in one base pair, the team was able to detect the genes responsible for hallucinations with 95 percent accuracy.

They were also able to estimate speech anomalies that are common with the disorder with 100 percent accuracy.

According the Cloninger, this breakthrough will lead to more accurate diagnosing and treatment for people suffering with this illness, and will quite possibly lead the way to better treatment for other disorders.

“People have been looking at genes to get a better handle on heart disease, hypertension and diabetes, and it’s been a real disappointment,” Clonginger said. “Most of the variability in the severity of disease has not been explained, but we were able to find that different sets of genetic variations were leading to distinct clinical syndromes. So I think this really could change the way people approach understanding the causes of complex diseases.”