Motor Neurone Disease and schizophrenia link discovered

27 Mar 2017

Image: Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock

Scientists at Trinity College Dublin have found that Motor Neurone Disease and schizophrenia have a shared genetic origin.

A major study of 13,000 Motor Neurone Disease (MND) cases – also known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) – and 30,000 schizophrenia cases has revealed a direct biological link.

Despite these two conditions being pretty diverse, the discovery of a shared genetic origin means future studies into potential treatments can be better targeted.

The research, published in Nature Communications, shows an overlap of 14pc in genetic susceptibility to the adult onset neurodegenerative condition MND and the developmental neuropsychiatric disorder schizophrenia.

Trinity College’s Dr Russell McLaughlin, who worked on the study, claims that this discovery “demonstrates the power of genetics in understanding the causes of diseases”.

Previous studies found that those people with MND were more likely to have other family members with schizophrenia. This was what instigated the latest research, where details of 12,000 relatives of MND patients were analysed.

The findings were checked across schizophrenia cases before the link was discovered.

Orla Hardiman of Beaumont Hospital, senior author on the paper, noted that the divide between psychiatry and neurology is, essentially, a “false one”.

“Our work over the years has shown us that ALS/MND is a much more complex disease than we originally thought,” said Hardiman, claiming it is more than just a disorder of individual nerve cells, rather it is how they “talk” to one another.

“Instead of thinking of ALS/MND as a degeneration of one cell at a time, and looking for a ‘magic bullet’ treatment that works, we should think about ALS/MND in the same way that we think about schizophrenia, which is a problem of disruptions in connectivity between different regions of the brain, and we should look for drugs that help to stabilise the failing brain networks,” she said.

Hardiman added that brain disease can have many forms and manifestations, with the biology and genetics underpinning each illness key to developing future treatment.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic