People with schizophrenia can experience psychosis, a condition in which they perceive the world very differently to those around them. They may see or hear things that others cannot or hold beliefs that others find bizarre. These experiences can be distressing for those experiencing them, as well as for their families and friends. Current treatments are inadequate: they do not work for all and can lead to unpleasant side effects. But attempts to improve this are hampered by our limited understanding of schizophrenia’s biological basis.
There is no single factor that causes schizophrenia, but we know that genes are important. But neither is there a “schizophrenia gene”. Instead, many hundreds of genes act in concert to subtly increase or decrease how likely we are to become ill, given the environment in which we find ourselves.
In the last ten years, geneticists have begun to uncover the specifics of these complex relationships by identifying precisely which genes are linked with schizophrenia and other mental health conditions. For neurobiologists like me, the discovery of these genes is exciting. This information provides new clues as to which molecules and cell signalling pathways might be altered in these conditions.
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