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Cardiff University scientists pinpoint gene related to schizophrenia

30 July 2008

Embargoed until 18:00 on 30th July

Scientists from Cardiff University have identified a risk gene associated with the mental health disorder schizophrenia.

An international group of researchers, led by Professors Michael O’Donovan, Nick Craddock, and Michael Owen from the School of Medicine examined DNA samples from more than 7,000 individuals with schizophrenia, and almost 13,000 people without the disorder.

Their findings, which are reported in the journal Nature Genetics, show that DNA variants that are common in the population at large also contribute to some individuals developing schizophrenia.

The researchers believe the risk genes may offer advantages in the brain function of unaffected people, which is why they can be found in the population at large.

Among the genes reported one appears to act by switching other genes on and off.

Professor O’Donovan said: "We looked for common changes in the genetic code that were more frequent in people with schizophrenia than people without it. Among the genes we found, the evidence for the gene called ZNF804A was particularly strong. We now need to determine the identity of the genes that it can switch on and off. Finding out which ones are regulated should tell us a lot about what biochemical disturbances result in disease, and provide further vital clues into the origins of schizophrenia and hopefully, new ways of treating it."

Schizophrenia is a common brain disorder characterized by delusions, hallucinations, and changes in motivation and behaviour. It affects approximately one person in 100 at some point in their lives, usually in late adolescence or early adulthood.

The group also found that the same gene also influences risk of the major mood disorder known as bipolar disorder or manic-depression.

The study involved researchers from Ireland, Germany, Japan, China, Israel, America and Australia, and in the UK was funded by the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.

The group’s results are one of three breakthrough findings in schizophrenia research being published today in the journals Nature, and Nature Genetics, two of which involve the Cardiff team.

In the other paper, published in Nature, Cardiff scientists involved in The International Schizophrenia Consortium found that people with schizophrenia are more likely to have an excess of rare deletions and duplications of large segments of genetic material across their entire genome.


Notes to Editors:

1. The papers will be published electronically on Nature's website on 30 July at 1800 London time / 1300 US Eastern time.

2. Cardiff School of Medicine

Cardiff University’s School of Medicine is a significant contributor to healthcare in Wales, a major provider of professional staff for the National Health Service and an international centre of excellence for research delivering substantial health benefits locally and internationally. The school’s 800 staff include 500 research and academic staff who teach more than 2,000 students, including 1,110 postgraduate students.

The School is based at the Heath Park Campus, a site it shares the University Hospital of Wales, the third largest university hospital in the UK. The School has an all-Wales role, contributing greatly to promoting, enhancing and protecting the nation’s health. A key partner in this role is the National Health Service (NHS) in Wales, with which the School is linked at all levels. This mutual dependency is illustrated by the teaching of medical undergraduates in more than 150 hospitals located in all of Wales’ health authorities. The medical curriculum followed at the School enables students to acquire and apply knowledge, skills, judgement and attitudes appropriate to delivering a high standard of professional care. Around 300 new doctors currently graduate from the School every year and the Welsh Assembly Government has invested substantially in new teaching facilities to increase this number further.

The School is an international leader in basic and clinically applied research activities and scored highly in the most recent Government Research Assessment Exercise. School of Medicine researchers annually win tens of millions of pounds in research awards to work with Government, the healthcare industries and the charitable sector on the most pressing issues of human health. The School has six interdisciplinary research groups to draw upon its own strength in depth and the vast range of expertise available across Cardiff University. These groups are addressing cancer; health sciences research; cardiovascular sciences; genomic approaches to health and disease; infection, immunity and inflammation; metabolism repair and regeneration. The School continually invests in facilities, with major developments including the Henry Wellcome Building for Biomedical Research in Wales, the largest enterprise of its kind ever in Wales. This £11M centre contains research laboratories and facilities for patients to participate in investigations of new disease treatments.

The School has been instrumental in establishing and running many important national research initiatives including the Wales Gene Park, Wales Cancer Bank, the Cardiff Institute for Tissue Engineering and Repair and the Healing Foundation UK Centre for Burns Research. The Wales Gene Park is involved in biomedical research, the provision to the NHS of novel diagnostic and clinical services, knowledge dissemination, genetics and genetics education, and the successful commercialisation of innovations arising from such activities. The Wales Cancer Bank is a collaborative project involving several Welsh NHS Trusts, the universities of Bangor and Swansea and the Welsh Assembly Government and is the first population-based collection of tumour and control tissue samples in Wales. The research will help establish the causes of cancer, help identify new areas for treatment and find out the best way to care for individual patients. The Cardiff Institute for Tissue Engineering and Repair uses scientific research to solve problems which are placing a heavy burden on health services around the world, such as, eye repair, chronic wounds, kidney repair and sports injuries. The Healing Foundation UK Centre for Burns Research is a multi-million pound collaboration investigating treatments and support fort the physical and mental rehabilitation of the 14,000 people suffering severe burns in the country every year.

3. Cardiff University

Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities. It is also ranked as one of the world’s top 100 universities by the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES).

2008 marks the 125th anniversary of Cardiff University having been founded by Royal Charter in 1883. Today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning.

Cardiff is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s leading research universities.

Visit the University website at:

4. Medical Research Council

The Medical Research Council supports the best scientific research to improve human health. Its work ranges from molecular level science to public health medicine and has led to pioneering discoveries in our understanding of the human body and the diseases which affect us all.

5. Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity in the UK. It funds innovative biomedical research, in the UK and internationally, spending around £600 million each year to support the brightest scientists with the best ideas. The Wellcome Trust supports public debate about biomedical research and its impact on health and wellbeing.

Further Information:

Professor Michael C O'Donovan

Professor of Psychiatric Genetics

School of Medicine

Tel: 44 (0)2920 687066