Expression of Specific Genes in Placenta May Help Predict Baby’s Risk for Schizophrenia; Further Confirmation of Placenta’s Role in Early Life Development of Schizophrenia Lays Groundwork for Possibly Eventually Preventing the Mental Disorder

A genetic scoring of schizophrenia-related genes in the placenta can predict the size of a baby's brain at birth and its rate of cognitive development, which, dependent on other factors, may lead to schizophrenia later in life, according to a study published on February 8, 2021 in PNAS. Researchers at the Lieber Institute for Brain Development (LIBD) and the University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Medicine used MRI scans at UNC from newborns and cognitive development measures for the first two years of life to uncover the finding. They noted that this was most significant in males. The open-access PNAS article is titled “Placental Genomic Risk Scores and Early Neurodevelopmental Outcomes.” "By identifying the specific genes activated in the placenta that appear to be unique for schizophrenia risk, we have zeroed in on a set of biological processes that could be targeted to improve placental health and reduce schizophrenia risk," says Daniel R. Weinberger, MD, CEO & Director of the LIBD. "To date, prevention from early in life has seemed unapproachable, if not unimaginable, but these new insights offer possibilities to change the paradigm." Dr. Weinberger notes that that most of the children with higher schizophrenia gene scoring in the placenta will not develop schizophrenia because other genetic and environmental factors will compensate for these placental effects later in development. But, he says, in principle, individuals who have other schizophrenia genetic risk factors and early life complications during pregnancy may not be able to compensate and will develop the illness, particularly if they are males.
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