Authors: Alice Weatherston
New research published in Genetics in Medicine has indicated that premature birth and low birth weight may be linked with an increased risk of developing schizophrenia in individuals with the genetic condition termed 22q11.2 deletion syndrome.
“Low birth weight and preterm birth have been proposed as risk factors in schizophrenia in general, but past studies have not shown a large effect on risk,” explained the study’s senior author Anne Bassett (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health).
The study, which was carried out at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (ON, Canada), involved 123 adults with genetically confirmed 22q11.2 deletion syndrome. Researchers assessed participants for psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia and carried out a comprehensive review of their medical records to collect information on birth weight and prematurity throughout development. Overall, 51 of the study participants were diagnosed with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder.
Although a link between individuals with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome and an increased risk of schizophrenia has been well established, with about one in four individuals developing the psychiatric condition, the research from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health demonstrated that the risk was increased to nearly one in two individuals among those born prematurely or with a low birth weight.
“We’ve focused our lens on these risks in a small population with a specific genetic subtype of schizophrenia, where the connection between birth factors and risk of developing schizophrenia is noticeably stronger.”
As prenatal tests now have the potential to identify the possibility of a 22q11.2 deletion as early as the first trimester of pregnancy, the team believe their results raise the possibility of intervention during pregnancy or immediately following birth. “The results need to be replicated, but do have important clinical implications,” commented Bassett.
The research is: “…part of ongoing efforts among schizophrenia researchers to predict and prevent illness at the earliest stages possible. The big-picture question is whether there is a way to support the developing fetal brain to improve outcomes, and lower the risk of schizophrenia,” concluded Bassett.