A recent advance in technology allows researchers to reprogram skin cells from patients and turn them into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which can then produce any type of cell in the body. They recently took advantage of this new technology by obtaining stem cells from individuals with a genetic mutation that causes them to be more susceptible to schizophrenia, and were able to note problems with nerve developments, which they were then able to link to the gene CYFIP1.
This gene helps to maintain the structure of the nerve cell. When they blocked the expression of the gene in the developing embryos of mice, they were able to detect abnormalities in cerebral cortex formation, which scientists now know plays a role in consciousness.
In addition to discovering a mutation in CYFIP, they were able to find two genes within a cellular pathway to which CYFIp1 was linked, which profoundly increased the subject’s risk of schizophrenia, supporting the hypothesis that several factors within a single pathway can interact with one another and increase the risk of developing certain psychiatric disorders. This breakthrough in genetic research represents an extremely important advancement in the study of behavioral genetics, since attempts to identify genes can be notoriously difficult, and impeded by numerous confounding variables, as well as typically necessitating very large sample sizes.