Search for Schizophrenia Gene Marches On


In a study released June 6, 2012 through the online journal Behavioral and Brain Functions, researchers from Japan acknowledge that “the results of association studies to date argue against the NGM (nuclear genome model), and in its place the MGM (mitochondrial genome model) is emerging as a viable option to account for genomic and pathophysiological research findings involving SCZ (schizophrenia).”

Article → Note from Kermit Cole, “In the News” editor:
Along with epigenetic research, it seems that the search for some attributable genetic linkage is ongoing. Michael Cornwall will be blogging on the implications of the widening search.


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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Kermit Cole
Kermit Cole, MFT, founding editor of Mad in America, works in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a couples and family therapist. Inspired by Open Dialogue, he works as part of a team and consults with couples and families that have members identified as patients. His work in residential treatment — largely with severely traumatized and/or "psychotic" clients — led to an appreciation of the power and beauty of systemic philosophy and practice, as the alternative to the prevailing focus on individual pathology. A former film-maker, he has undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology from Harvard University, as well as an MFT degree from the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. He is a doctoral candidate with the Taos Institute and the Free University of Brussels. You can reach him at [email protected].


  1. Dear Kermit Cole, “In the News” editor:

    Respectfully, your headline is not working for me.

    You should please understand: “schizophrenia” refers to a very wide range of phenomena, and that list of phenomena has a long history of change; for, “schizophrenia” has never had any bio-markers (i.e., there is no blood test or X-ray or CAT scan or fMRI that could show us definitively who is or is not supposedly afflicted with ‘it’); so, there has never been anything even close to a clear consensus, regarding what “schizophrenia” is.

    In fact, many highly credible authorities in the field of mental heath have argued well, that ‘it’ doesn’t even exist.

    I.e., we are, here, referring to such a completely indefinite so-called “illness” (or, “disorder”); ‘it’ is, arguably, not even so tangible as that which we refer to with the colloquialism, “nervous breakdown.”

    And, so, I assure you: no capable research scientist possessing even as little as half a brain in his or her skull would ever set out on a search for a “schizophrenia gene”; meanwhile, unfortunately, in your headline (“Search for Schizophrenia Gene Marches On”), you seem to be saying that such was the mission of the researchers in this study, to which you are referring; you are, thus, perpetuating the very same kind of ignorance that leads always more millions of people to tragically ignore the many social factors, which tend to lead to a perceived ‘psychosis’ which typically (through ‘diagnostic’ reasoning that is seldom at all clear) winds up coming to be defined as “symptomatic” of, “schizophrenia.”

    (Note: Robert Whitaker sometimes refers to mental health professionals who presume that, if a seeming “psychosis” persists for six months, it should be designated “schizophrenia.” But, that is not a universally accepted convention.)

    Arguably, in many instances, “schizophrenia” is nothing more or less than a blanket term used to deflect the best possible, ongoing attempts of therapists, to search for why a given individual has come to withdraw deeply into a world of his or her own.

    (Of course, such attempts require the presence of love, not genetic sequencing technologies.)

    Is there anyone looking for ‘a gene’ for such behavior as typically signifies what psychiatrist call, “schizophrenia?” Of course, no.

    In truth there are very few forms of real disease that are caused by a single gene.

    And, indeed, this PDF study that you’ve linked to says nothing about searching for a, “schizophrenia gene.”

    Would it not make more sense to just give the name of the study, for your headline?

    “Paradox of schizophrenia genetics: is a paradigm shift ocurring?”*


    *[Note the authors of the study have misspelled “occurring” – leaving out a “c”.]

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    • I agree with everything you say. I meant the headline to be ironic, if not rueful. You are right that the original headline captures it, but I don’t feel I can just re-use a headline, so I try to come up with one that adds something. In this case I actually assumed that any reader of this website would begin with the premises you lay out here, and thus catch the irony I intended. But I appreciate you reminding me that I shouldn’t assume that. Thanks.
      I do think the “paradigm shift” referred to is toward more searching for genetic linkage in an even greater field of possibilities, and thus an escalation of what has been an unproductive and distracting field of research. I generally keep my views out of the way when I put posts up, and hope that commenters flesh out what interested me. As you did here, beautifully. I couldn’t claim that the headline I wrote served my purpose, then, but you did write out a view I am happy to endorse, and could not have written.

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      • Kermit,

        Thanks for your reply. It’s helpful that you explain your intent was to be, “ironic, if not rueful”; I can, most often, appreciate irony; but, in this case, I didn’t see it. (Perhaps, had your headline been accompanied by a silly cartoon of some kind, the irony would have been clear.) And, I’d be willing to bet, that many do not, at first glance, read it as ironic – but, rather, as matter of fact.

        Though, yes, it certainly helps that here is a discussion about it, in the comments.

        Finally, RE your saying, “I don’t feel I can just re-use a headline,” I get what you’re saying; you’re indicating a legitimate need to demonstrate, that you’re exercising a ‘fair’ degree of editorial license; you don’t want to appear as though mimicking your source; that’s perfectly reasonable. But, I wonder: when feeling at an impasse, in your attempt to come up with a headline that works for you, can you not ‘re-use’ the existing headline (or, use the existing title of the study) by framing it in quotation marks???

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        • I have put quotes on headlines for this reason. I just like to try to say something about why I’m including a study, when the reason may not be obvious, and usually the headline is the only chance I get to do that because I try to keep the text really neutral. But I must guard against irony where I can’t include an emoticon. Bob has always pulled me back from more blatant irony; this time I thought it was relatively innocuous and I didn’t run it by him.
          All said, I don’t mind at all your critique. I don’t feel I’m pushing hard enough if I’m not getting some push back, and I haven’t had much for a week or so – so I guess this will have to suffice.

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    • One more thing; I feel that my job here is to present research, as much as is possible, on its own terms. So, while I might be inclined toward phrases like “person with a diagnosis of schizophrenia” rather than “schizophrenic,” it is often difficult to summarize a study in a way that translates its premises into language that aligns with my assumptions without unfairly or misleadingly twisting the study’s original intent. Though there may be something in a study I think is interesting for a reason other than the authors’ intent or conclusions, I cannot simply recast the study as I see fit. I have to frame it, as much as possible, from within the authors’ intent and hope that I can sufficiently highlight what I think is interesting about it.
      Often, it’s taken me days to come up with a “spin” that seemed fair to both the authors’ intent and my interest, and sometimes I’ve just not included studies that seemed interesting because I couldn’t do both without editorializing to a degree that I feel would stifle conversation or risk seeming to characterize MiA’s editorial position.
      If there is an editorial position it is that more dialogue is needed on the areas this site explores, and so anything that adds to that dialogue is good and anything that impedes it is not so good. I do rely on the interest and intelligence of the people who come to this site to bring out the points that I like to think are important, as you do here.

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  2. Hi Jonah,

    You wrote, “And, indeed, this PDF study that you’ve linked to says nothing about searching for a, “schizophrenia gene.””

    It does.

    From the article:

    Genetic research of schizophrenia (SCZ) based on the nuclear genome model (NGM) has
    been one of the most active areas in psychiatry for the past two decades.”

    Genetic research of SCZ based on the NGM has been one of the most active areas in
    psychiatry for the past two decades. Although this effort is ongoing, results of association
    studies based on the NGM have been disappointing, or rather perplexing.”

    I hold a personal belief that “schizophrenia” actually is genetic, and I also believe that it isn’t exactly a disorder or disease.

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    • ///…I hold a personal belief that “schizophrenia” actually is genetic, and I also believe that it isn’t exactly a disorder or disease…///

      Hi mjk,

      To say something “is genetic” implies that it’s genetically determined – a ‘done deal’ – and, ‘out of our control’ (like our eye color); so, I must disagree with the first half of what you say there, in that sentence, which I’ve highlighted (above); but, I agree with the second half… “it isn’t exactly a disorder or disease.”

      And, the passages you offer from the study are meaningful. Thank you.

      But, they do not show even a single reference to a “schizophrenia gene.”

      In fact, one can go to that PDF document, press the little binoculars icon, type in “schizophrenia gene” and see: no where, in all 35 of its pages, does the term arise.

      It doesn’t arise because lead researchers in the genetics of mental health, years ago, realized: they’ll never find a “schizophrenia gene”; they won’t – as “schizophrenia” is such a very vaguely defined ‘condition’; ‘it’ can be marked by any number of relatively ‘different’ ways of thinking and/or behaving and/or by a very wide variety of possible emotional ‘symptoms.’

      And, there is no physical marker, which can prove it even exists; so, ‘It’ is not anything like a genuinely physical disease; and, really: there is no single phenomenon called “schizophrenia.”

      In truth, the term “schizophrenia” represents – at best – a multiplicity of more or less clearly transitory ‘conditions’ – born of any number of relatively stressful experiences. To say that, “schizophrenia is genetic” is simply misleading – and unscientific.

      A gene causes phenylketonuria; you can Google that disease, and read a bit about what makes it genetic; it is caused by a mutated gene.
      No such gene will ever prove to be a “schizophrenia gene”; most researchers well understand that; but, they keep getting money for research; and, with that money, they place their hopes in the prospect of, perhaps, finding combinations of genes (or, sequences of genes) that might demonstrate, at least, some limited tendency to be associated with some small percentage of cases, of people being so-called “diagnosed” as “schizophrenic.”

      Now, is there any good reason to speculate, that some few cases of what’s been called “schizophrenia” are genetic?

      That’s not an entirely unreasonable question; because, after all, many people who receive a so-called “diagnosis” of “schizophrenia” tend to be more sensitive to certain environmental conditions, so they may be more inclined to experience certain ‘stress’ effects, under certain circumstances, than others; and, those effects or their reactions to those effects might be considered either ‘precursors’ or else ‘symptoms’ of supposed “schizophrenia”; and, the likelihood of some of those effects arising may be increased by an inheritance of certain, specific gene sequences; thus, genetic influences that account for some kinds of physical conditions, which make certain people more sensitive to their environmental circumstances, may increase the odds of their developing a way of being that comes to be called, “schizophrenia”; but, here we are talking about limited probabilities and about ‘epigenetic’ phenomena – the interactions between genetic endowment and certain environmental factors; here we are not talking about “schizophrenia” being “genetic” any more than we can reasonably call an inclination to write poetry, “genetic.”

      Of course, we may think of a gifted poet as having been ‘born that way’; but, in all reality: how many poets are, on the contrary, obviously, just people who were taught, by teachers and by circumstances, to express themselves, with metaphors and similes, rhyme and meter? How many great poems were forged in solitude created purely by trauma? And, how many different kinds of poets are there?

      I once heard someone say, that, “A ‘schizophrenic’ is just a poet or a painter who is holding back!”

      As you, “believe that [“schizophrenia”] isn’t exactly a disorder or disease,” you may appreciate that view and agree.

      It certainly seems right to me – especially, because it suggests that there is a perfectly good way to *completely* transcend the conventional/psychiatric paradigm, which has long held so-called “schizophrenia” to be (what Thomas Szasz calls), “psychiatry’s sacred symbol.”

      Two points on so-called “schizophrenia”:

      First, with respect to this popular notion, that ‘it’ is somehow necessarily a lifetime ‘condition,’ I think: no way. I strongly believe, that given the right (non-medical) environment, ‘it’ would always become any number of passing phenomena, vanishing from existence, once the ‘afflicted’ was fully acquainted with his or her muse.
      And, second, with respect to the notion that one might be ‘destined’ from birth to become ‘afflicted’ with ‘it,’ I think, again: no way. I strongly believe, that given the right (non-medical) guidance, one would never develop any condition that could arguably be called, “schizophrenia.”

      You may or may not agree with those points; if you do agree, then you do not really believe so-called “schizophrenia” is genetic; even if you agree with only the first point, then you do not really believe so-called “schizophrenia” is genetic; but, in any case, I assure you: these genetic researchers are doing exactly what Kermit describes (in his comment above); they are, “searching for genetic linkage in an even greater field of possibilities.”

      I.e., they know they cannot find a “schizophrenia gene,” so they spend day and night ‘crunching numbers’ (using evermore powerful computers to analyze virtually countless combinations of genes); and, as they go on doing so, they find themselves reveling in even the least little, barely possible hints of the slightest genetic influence, in some few cases, of certain people who’ve been called “schizophrenic.”

      I quite agree with Kermit’s characterization; this is, “an escalation of what has been an unproductive and distracting field of research.”

      For, what these researchers are doing, ultimately, is looking (endlessly) for presumed genetic links to supposed “schizophrenia” – hoping to find some sequence of genes and/or collection of seeming genetic ‘flaws’ that can be shown to definitively increase the probability of ones developing a ‘condition,’ that is actually an umbrella term for an incredibly wide range of effects; meanwhile, they are not acknowledging, that many of those effects can be considered desirable; for, many of them are associated with a strong tendency to want to think outside the box and be ‘different’ from the ‘norm.’

      These geneticists are engaged in a fool’s errand, that’s guided largely by ‘normalcy-worshipping’ key opinion leaders in the field of conventional, medical psychiatry and by huge pharmaceutical companies, who, altogether, stand to gain massively, from convincing one generation of the general public, after the next, that so-called “schizophrenic” people are supposedly ‘afflicted’ with a most dread “genetic disease” requiring a life-time of chemical ‘treatment.’

      Sadly, they are denying the simple facts (being assembled by Robert Whitaker and others): time and again, it’s been proved: when, at early onset, of virtually any first instance, of so-called “psychosis,” the supposedly ‘afflicted’ individual is ‘just’ given unpressured sanctuary, including protection against unwanted, invasive psychiatric procedures, then, with little or no medical “care,” any seeming ‘threat’ of developing so-called “schizophrenia” will tend to pass; when simply given some genuinely safe sanctuary and a bit of healthy guidance, quite a few (and, perhaps, most) of these individuals wind up growing well beyond (i.e., they completely *outgrow*) what was once – at an earlier time, of their life – called (or else, was feared to be) “schizophrenia”; and, indeed, they become highly creative members of society.

      This is not to suggest, that those who wind up living with a supposed “diagnosis” of so-called “schizophrenia” cannot be highly creative members of society; they can be; but, they are much more inclined toward being shunned by society and/or victimized (repeatedly or ongoingly) by medical-coercive psychiatry.

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      • Hi Jonah,

        Sorry I didn’t reply sooner – I forgot about this article.

        I think January Schofield is probably the best case for study of her condition. It is certain that she was born as she is.

        Is it genetic? I believe so, yes. But I think the condition is being greatly misinterpreted. I think it should not be seen as a disorder or disease. I also believe the word schizophrenia itself is erroneous.

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