Articles > The Genetics of Schizophrenia

The Genetics of Schizophrenia

The Genetics of Schizophrenia

Patrick F. Sullivan

Patrick F. Sullivan is at the Departments of Genetics, Psychiatry, and Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, United States. E-mail:

PLoS Med 2(7): e212.  This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.

Research into the etiology of schizophrenia has never been as interesting or as provocative as in the past three years. There has been progress on several fronts, but particularly regarding the molecular genetics of this complex disorder of mind and brain. At the same time, a number of critically important and unresolved issues remain that qualify the ultimate clinical and scientific validity of the results. However, the recent progress in this historically difficult area of inquiry does not seem to be widely appreciated. The purpose of this article is to provide a high-level review of progress, its limitations, and the implications for clinical research and clinical practice.

The public health importance of schizophrenia is clear. The median lifetime prevalence of schizophrenia is 0.7–0.8% [1], with onset typically ranging from adolescence to early adulthood and a course of illness typified by exacerbations, remissions, and substantial residual symptoms and functional impairment [2]. Morbidity is substantial, and schizophrenia ranks ninth in global burden of illness [3]. In addition, schizophrenia is often comorbid with drug dependence (principally alcohol, nicotine, cannabis, and cocaine) and important medical conditions (obesity, Type 2 diabetes mellitus) [4]. Mortality due to natural and unnatural causes is considerable, and the projected lifespan for individuals with schizophrenia is some 15 years less than the general population [5]. The personal, familial, and societal costs of schizophrenia are enormous.

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