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Faulty gene link to mental illness

Scientists have identified a gene that could be responsible for mental illness.

Researchers have found that the gene - called ABCA13 - is partially inactive in patients with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression.

The scientists say that identifying the genes that predispose people to psychiatric illness is seen as the most important step in developing new ways to tackle the conditions.

New treatment potential

The international team of scientists, led by the University, studied the genes of 2000 psychiatric patients and compared them to 2000 healthy people.

They found that the ABCA13 gene was faulty more frequently in patients with mental illness than in the control group.

The results suggest the gene plays a crucial role in maintaining brain health.

The team believes the gene may influence the way fat molecules are used in brain cells and the researchers will now focus on finding out exactly how this occurs.

It is hoped that the discovery will lead to new drugs that could restore mental health in patients with psychiatric illness.

This is an exciting step forward in our understanding of the underlying causes of some common mental illnesses. These risk genes could signpost new directions for treatments.

Douglas BlackwoodProfessor of Psychiatric Genetics

International collaboration

Dr Ben Pickard, who was part of the Edinburgh team but now works at the University of Strathclyde, said: “This study is the first to identify multiple points of DNA damage within a single gene that are linked with psychiatric illness.

"It strongly suggests that this gene may regulate an important part of brain function that fails in individuals diagnosed with these devastating disorders”.

The research was carried out in collaboration with scientists and the Universities of Aberdeen, Queensland and North Carolina.

The results are published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.