London, United Kingdom (4E) – A recent study confirming a gene linked to increased risk of developing schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and alcoholism is expected to drive the development of a new drug for treating mental illness.
Researchers from the University College London (UCL) already identified the gene variant Metabotropic Glutamate Receptor-3 (GRM3) in Chromosome 7 as associated with a threefold risk of developing the said brain disorders.
DNA Learning Center defines GMR3 as a G-protein, which transmits signals from a variety of different stimuli outside a cell into the inside of the cell. It also modulates serotonin and dopamine transmission.
Chromosome 7 is one of the 23 pairs of human chromosomes, the focus of genetic research. It is likely to contain between 1,000 and 1,400 genes, according to Wikipedia.
The UCL study published in the journal Psychiatric Genetics was based on the genetic analysis of 6,280 participants. Of the number, 4,971 people were diagnosed with one of the three disorders and their genetic analyses were compared with the 1,309 people found without the disorders.
The findings support a previous study by a global consortium of 200 institutions, including UCL, that GMR3 poses an increased risk of schizophrenia. The gene was identified as associated with schizophrenia after examining the genomes of 36,989 people who had developed the disorder and 113,075 healthy subjects from different parts of the world.
“The work opens up new ways to prevent and treat mental illnesses by revealing the mechanisms involved in their development,” Prof. David Curtis, co-author of the new UCL study.
Currently, the treatment for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder focuses on eliminating the symptoms of the conditions, as the specific causes are unknown. Drugs target the activity of the chemical dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps to transmit signals between brain cells. When dopamine signaling is overactive, areas of the brain communicate with each other when they are supposed to remain separate. Hearing voices, a symptom of schizophrenia, may be due to speech and hearing areas of the brain communicating between each other.
Other brain cell chemical targeted by drugs for schizophrenia are glutamate and calcium “channels” used to control brain cell activation.
“Drug treatments for schizophrenia have barely changed over the past few decades, as they still target dopamine receptors. Schizophrenia treatments targeting glutamate receptors have been tested in the past without success. However, they might be more effective at treating patient groups with mutations in glutamate receptors such as GRM3,” said Dr. Andrew McQuillen, head of the UCL Molecular Psychiatry team that first discovered GRM3.
McQuillen said drugs targeting calcium channels have previously been tested with some success against bipolar disorder. With the new findings, he expects to see increased interest in drugs against both glutamate receptors and calcium channels.
For alcoholism, treatment includes the use of naltrexone, which prevents alcohol from binding with receptors in the brain’s pleasure center, thus preventing the alcoholic to get pleasure from drinking and from experiencing cravings altogether. The addiction rehabilitation company BioCorRx, Inc. (OTCQB: BICX) licenses a drug and alcohol treatment program called Start Fresh Program, which combines the use of naltrexone implants on patients and life coaching.
The discovery of the GRM3 presents hope for some 2.4 million American adults suffering from schizophrenia, 5.7 million who have bipolar disorder and more than 18 million who are dependent on alcohol. The chronic illnesses severely impacts on peoples’ livelihoods and social relationships so any development of a treatment stand to improve the lives of those afflicted.