Smoking May Be Linked to This Mental Disorder
Smoking Tied to Increased Risk of Schizophrenia
New research shows that smoking impacts a gene known to be a risk factor for schizophrenia.
By Ian Landau
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TUESDAY, Mar. 27, 2012 —Despite decades of warnings about the ill health effects of smoking, many continue to light up. Just two weeks ago, we reported on the CDC’s new national “scared-straight-style” anti-smoking campaign aimed at yet again convincing Americans to quit. And three weeks ago the U.S. surgeon general released a dismaying report on teen smoking, which said more than 600,000 middle school students and more than 3 million high school students smoke, endangering their long-term health. Now, as if smokers needed anymorereasons to quit, a new study from researchers in Switzerland and Germany indicates that smokers may be more likely to develop schizophrenia than non-smokers.
What the latest study found was that smoking alters the impact of a gene variant that is a known risk factor for developing schizophrenia. Led by Boris Quedzow of the University of Zurich Neuroscience Center and Georg Winterer from the University of Cologne’s Center for Genomics, researchers set out to further understand the genetic underpinnings of schizophrenia.
Specifically, the team wished to analyze the connection between what is known as “acoustic stimulus filtering” and the known schizophrenia risk gene "transcription factor 4" (aka, TCF4). Acoustic stimulus filtering is a fancy way of describing what happens when we process the sounds we hear. Upon hearing a hearing a variety of sounds, healthy individuals will essentially tune out the ones not relevant to whatever they’re doing at the time. People with schizophrenia, however, have much more difficulty separating relevant sounds from irrelevant ones, leading to a sort of brain overload.
Quedzow’s and Winter’s team performed genetic screenings to identify variants of the TCF4 gene in 1,821 healthy study subjects in Germany. Because numerous studies have shown that a large percentage of schizophrenics smoke (as many as 80 percent in the U.S., according to a 2006 study), they assessed subjects’ smoking behavior as part of their research.
Study participants then underwent a test in which they listened to a series of clicks while their brainwave patterns were monitored using electroencephalography (EEG). This was designed to assess how well they processed the audio series.
The team found that, like schizophrenics, carriers of the TCF4 risk gene were less efficient at processing the clicks. But what really got their attention was that smokers — and especially heavy smokers — who carry the TCF4 gene variant were even less efficient at processing the auditory stimuli. The researchers believe the diminished processing among smokers indicates that “smoking alters the impact of the TCF4 gene on acoustic stimulus filtering,” as Quedzow said in a release in tandem with the publication of his team’s research in the journalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He continued, “ Therefore, smoking might also increase the impact of particular genes on the risk of schizophrenia.”
To be clear, the German and Swiss team is not saying that smoking causes schizophrenia. Instead, their findings show that smoking data could be a useful addition to the arsenal of information used to diagnose schizophrenia.
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