Schizophrenia’s behemoth burden grows

Schizophrenia cost the US an extra $155.7 billion in 2013, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. This economic burden far exceeds a 2002 estimate, with the bulk due to indirect costs, including loss of productivity due to unemployment or caregiving. This finding signals a need for therapies that ameliorate cognition or otherwise help functioning in people with schizophrenia.

Read this story at Schizophrenia Research Forum.

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Remote control of seizures

chemogeneticsDuring a seizure, the brain’s electrical signals run amok, producing torrents of neural activity that can cause a person to lose consciousness, shake involuntarily and disconcertingly, and even stop breathing. Researchers are now forging a path toward controlling seizures through chemogenetics, a method that introduces molecular control switches into the brain.

Read this story at IEEE Pulse.

Steering organoids toward discovery

organoids-openerSince the 1980s, stem cells’ shape-shifting abilities have wowed scientists. With proper handling, a few growth factors, and some time, stem cells can be cooked up into specific cell types, including neurons, muscle, and skin.

Yet, stem cells know more than they’re given credit for. Over the past decade, researchers have discovered that, left to their own devices, stem cells will generate multiple cell types that assemble into structures resembling an organ. These “organoids” have been made for many body parts, including the retina, liver, intestine, kidney, and even the brain.

Read this story at IEEE Pulse.

Brain study fingers AS3MT and BORCS7 genes for schizophrenia

Transcripts in the brain have identified likely risk genes for schizophrenia along chromosome 10, according to a paper published May 9 in Nature Medicine. Led by Daniel Weinberger of the Lieber Institute for Brain Development in Baltimore, Maryland, in collaboration with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, the researchers sequenced RNA messages in brain to find associations between transcripts and risk alleles identified by previous genetic studies. This turned up a link to a gene called BORCS7 and a novel, human-specific form of the AS3MT gene.

The study illustrates the information bonanza within transcript data, which measures gene expression levels and splice variants. This approach can pick up where genetic studies have left off: for example, genomewide association studies (GWAS) that survey common genetic variants, called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), have cast suspicion upon the 10q24.32 region that is chock-a-block with genes, but stopped short of deciphering the true culprits.

Read this story at Schizophrenia Research Forum.

DNA methylation contributes to schizophrenia risk

Two studies of DNA methylation offer more evidence that the way genes are turned on and off could be a source of risk for schizophrenia. Methyl groups placed on genes suppress their action, and people vary somewhat in the particular genes manufactured into proteins. Though both studies indicate a role for methylation in schizophrenia, the specifics remain unclear.

Read this story at Schizophrenia Research Forum.