Friday, January 22, 2010


One of the things I struggle with most is Colby's schizophrenia. There were many in my family who had this complex disease, so I know he inherited it from me. I feel tremendous guilt over this, even though I know one cannot help what genes he or she passes on. Nor can a person control how those genes mix with the other parent and manifests in the child. Schizophrenia is hard to predict. It skips around like a tornado, landing here and there, missing this one and that one, but causing horrible destruction to everyone who is even on the periphery of its path.

What family I had when I was younger was not close, so I did not know until recently how many were affected. But even if I had known, in the years leading up to Colby's birth, there would not have been anything I could have done. There was no genetic screening back then, no way of predicting whether or not a person was carrier of a specific gene. But now all that is changing.

According to a study conducted by researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, variations of a gene related to brain development and function (OLIG2) may cause the development of schizophrenia. Researchers have already classified schizophrenia as an hereditary psychiatric disorder. Earlier research suggested that schizophrenia is associated with changes in myelin, the fatty substance (or white matter) in the brain that coats nerve fibers and is critical for the brain to function properly. Myelin is formed by a group of central nervous cells that are regulated by the gene OLIG2.

The new study showed that genetic variation in OLIG2 was strongly associated with schizophrenia. In addition, OLIG2 also showed a genetic association with schizophrenia when examined together with two other genes previously associated with schizophrenia, CNP and ERBB4, which are also active in the development of myelin.

As researchers further unravel the role of OLIG2 and myelin in schizophrenia, it is possible that medications like those being developed for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, a disorder associated with a breakdown of myelin, may have a future impact in the treatment of schizophrenia. This news is so exciting to me. None of us know how difficult life was for Colby. He was the only one walking in his shoes, but I do know that he struggled, daily, hourly. I would not wish his circumstances on anyone. But it is quite possible that future generations may not only have more effective treatment, there may someday be a cure.

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