A gene that plays a major role in positioning Ashkenazi Jewish families for schizophrenia has been isolated.

It’s modest news in the overall scheme of things, but like the discovery of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations for breast cancer for Ashkenazi Jews, it shows the usefulness of focusing genetic studies in a specific ethnic group.

Ashkenazi JewsMutations in the gene NDST3 gene are found with appreciable frequency in Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews suffering from psychosis, but that doesn’t mean they have any greater chance of mental disturbance–only that, among those diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and bipolar disorder, a specific mutation in this single gene is found in significantly greater numbers.

Todd Lencz, associate investigator at the Zucker Hillside Hospital Department of Psychiatry Research and Feinstein Institute, which led the study, said the Ashkenazi Jewish population represents a unique opportunity for study because of its short (less than 1,000-year) history and limited population.

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