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ALS and Schizophrenia

Published: 04/18/2017

Research shows that schizophrenia and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis have the same genetic origin. This will change the prevention and treatment of mental and neurological diseases.
 
Science is usually made up of discoveries that little by little add knowledge about the same theme. Sometimes, however, the findings present such startling conclusions that they serve to change significantly the ideas devised so far. Last week, one of those reports came out. And it will forever transform the way the brain is to be understood. In an article published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature, a team of researchers coordinated by scientists at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, announced that two distinct diseases - schizophrenia and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) - have the same genetic root. They are different, but the same.
 
In the study, we analyzed the DNA of 13,000 ALS patients and 30,000 schizophrenia patients. It has been found that 14% of the genes associated with both diseases are the same. How can we explain that diseases with such diverse manifestations share the same origin? Schizophrenia is a psychiatric illness. It occurs in adolescence or early adulthood and has among its main symptoms delusions (the patient thinks of being persecuted, for example), hallucinations (hearing voices, among others) and disjointed ideas. ALS is a neurological disease. Being degenerative, it progressively attacks motor neurons, leading to loss of muscle strength and inability to perform movements.
 
 The answer to the main scientists questioning forces a radical change. "The division between what is neurological and psychiatric is artificial," Orla Hardiman, the work coordinator, declared to ISTOÉ magazine: "We need to break down this barrier and understand that we must study and treat the brain as a whole."
In practice, the information forces physicians to no longer disassociate these diseases altogether. The first impact is on prevention, both neurological and mental. "We should be more alert to family history and to the manifestation of symptoms," says neurologist José Luiz Pedroso at the Paulista Medicine School and coordinator of the Scientific Department of Neurogenetics at the Brazilian Academy of Neurology. Then, step forward to treatment. "We will have more attention with physical signs that may be associated with mental manifestations," says psychiatrist Carmita Abdo, president of the Brazilian Association of Psychiatry.
 
COMMON POINTS WHAT EACH DISEASE IS
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a neurological disease characterized by progressive degeneration of the motor neurons. It leads to loss of muscle strength and difficulty performing movements. Schizophrenia is a psychiatric disorder characterized by disturbances in social behavior.
 
WHAT HAS BEEN DISCOVERED
Analysis of the genetic profile of 13,000 ALS patients and 30,000 schizophrenia ones revealed that 14% of the genes associated with both diseases are the same.
 
FUTURE IMPACT
The information changes the way which psychiatric and neurological diseases are currently understood. Instead of distinct manifestations, they may be analyzed as different symptoms arising from the same genetic error.
The understanding will be used to create new ways of preventing both types of disease and treatments based on the correction of changes in DNA.
 
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