For years, doctors have known that there is a genetic component to schizophrenia. Research has identified hundreds of genetic variants that may increase the risk of developing this form of mental illness, but no definitive triggers have been found.
Now, a new study suggests that a single gene variant may be linked to several symptoms of schizophrenia, not just the hallucinations and delusions that the general public is familiar with. Other common symptoms include agitation and memory problems.
The study says that the absence of a gene variant called Arp2/3 can cause these symptoms to appear, along with psychosis. This conclusion is based on studies of mice that were genetically modified to be born without that particular gene variant. The mice without Arp2/3 showed signs of all three symptoms.
Beyond that, their brains tended to have several of the brain abnormalities associated with symptoms of schizophrenia. These include differences in the brain cells of the frontal cortex and striatum, and overactive neuron firing in exciatory cells, which are supposed to fire in balance with inhibitory cells.
If the absence of Arp2/3 indeed is the cause of hallucinations, delusional thinking, memory deficits and agitation, that still does not explain other frequent symptoms like difficulty with social cues and lack of motivation. Still, this could be another piece in what the study’s lead author called the “big puzzle” of schizophrenia, which the Los Angeles Times says is one of the most mysterious mental illnesses.
An illness as extensive as schizophrenia can worsen over time, eventually making it too difficult to hold a job. Social Security Disability benefits can help make up for this lost income, for those who qualify.