In a new study, researchers at Karolinska Institutet have identified epigenetic changes — known as DNA methylation — in the blood of patients with schizophrenia. The researchers were also able to detect differences depending on how old the patients were when they developed the disease and whether they had been treated with various drugs. In the future this new knowledge may be used to develop a simple test to diagnose patients with schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is one of our most common chronic psychiatric diseases and affects 1% of the population. It is already known that the risk of developing schizophrenia increases if one has close family members who have had the disease. At the same time, studies on identical twins, who therefore have the same genetic make-up, show that 50% of the disease risk can be explained by genetic factors. This in turn suggests that environmental factors, which include epigenetic changes to the genome, account for the remaining 50% of the cause of the disease.