WASHINGTON, D.C., Sept. 27, 2023 — New research finds that people with schizophrenia have a genetic propensity to smoking and a reduced genetic risk of obesity. The study, published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, revealed genetic overlap between schizophrenia and cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors, particularly body mass index (BMI) and smoking. The findings highlight the importance of environmental factors in the development of obesity and other CVD comorbidities.
Schizophrenia is associated with an increased risk of CVD and this study was aimed at better understanding the genetic overlap between the two. The research team, led by Linn Rødevand, Ph.D., with the Norwegian Center for Mental Disorders Research at the University of Oslo, analyzed recent genome-wide association study (GWAS) results to estimate the number of shared genetic variants and pinpoint specific shared locations. Extensive genetic overlap was found between schizophrenia and CVD risk factors, particularly smoking initiation and BMI. Several specific shared locations were also found between schizophrenia and waist-to-hip ratio, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, lipids, and coronary artery disease.
The genetic overlap between schizophrenia and smoking behavior means that people with schizophrenia may be more affected by nicotine’s addictive properties, the authors note. “In particular, patients with schizophrenia experience greater reinforcing effects of nicotine and more severe withdrawal symptoms during abstinence.” In addition, they note that “smoking may represent a form of self-medication . . . tobacco smoking in people with schizophrenia may involve, to some extent, an attempt to compensate for genetically determined dysfunction of nAChRs.”
In line with previous evidence of higher prevalence of low BMI before the onset of schizophrenia, the study results also indicate that people with schizophrenia are genetically predisposed to lower BMI. However, obesity is also more common in individuals with schizophrenia than those in the general population. The findings indicate that factors other than common genetic variants play an important role in weight gain in schizophrenia, including adverse effects of antipsychotics and symptoms, depression, and socioeconomic challenges that contribute to unhealthy lifestyles. In addition, genetic factors likely play an important role in antipsychotic-induced weight gain.
The overlapping locations between schizophrenia and lipids, blood pressure, waist-to-hip ratio, type 2 diabetes, and coronary artery disease had mixed effect directions. This means that half of the genetic variants influencing schizophrenia were associated with increased cardiovascular disease risk, while the other half were associated with reduced cardiovascular disease risk. This may suggest that subgroups of people with schizophrenia vary in their genetic vulnerability to CVD, which can underlie some of the differences in CVD comorbidity, according to the authors.
American Psychiatric Association
The American Psychiatric Association, founded in 1844, is the oldest medical association in the country. The APA is also the largest psychiatric association in the world with more than 38,000 physician members specializing in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention and research of mental illnesses. APA’s vision is to ensure access to quality psychiatric diagnosis and treatment. For more information, please visit www.psychiatry.org.
American Journal of Psychiatry
Method of Research
Subject of Research
Characterizing the Shared Genetic Underpinnings of Schizophrenia and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors
Dr. Anders Dale is a founder of and holds equity interest in CorTechs Labs and
serves on its scientific advisory board; he is a member of the scientific
advisory board of Human Longevity and the Mohn Medical Imaging and
Visualization Center (Bergen, Norway); and he has received research
funding from General Electric Healthcare. Dr. Andreassen has served as a
speaker for Janssen, Lundbeck, and Sunovion and as a consultant for
Cortechs.ai. The other authors report no financial relationships with