The SNP gene is one of the most abundant and important genes in the human genome, and the SNP (short for “single nucleotide polymorphism”) is thought to confer a number of health benefits, from a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes to increased longevity.
In a new study published online this week in the journal Science Advances, researchers found that the SNP gene has also been associated with autism, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, and depression.
“In the past, we’ve found that people with higher genetic variation in the SNP have more severe psychiatric disorders, like autism,” says lead author Eileen M. Bierman, a PhD student in molecular genetics at the University of California, San Diego.
“But we thought we would find a link between autism and the variant.”
Biermann and her colleagues analyzed the genetic data from over a million people who had participated in the Health, Aging, and Disease Study II (HAES II), a large longitudinal study of more than 100,000 people from around the world.
The study is one the most comprehensive and comprehensive of its kind to date, and it was the only one to look at autism and mental health separately.
“What we found was that the autism variant was associated with a lower probability of having the SNP, and we found a similar association for schizophrenia,” Biermen says.
“This suggests that the association we found for autism may have more to do with the association with schizophrenia than with autism itself.”
Biersman and her team looked at genetic variants that might predict the risk of having autism and found a link with the SNPs rs53576, rs6570, and rs6969.
“These are really novel and powerful genetic variants, and they really have broad implications for autism,” Biersmann says.
Biersma says that the results should inform future studies that investigate the link between mental health and variants of the SNP.
“We think the discovery of these SNPs should be used as a starting point for further studies,” she says.
In fact, the researchers say they are planning future studies to explore the association between these SNPS and schizophrenia.
The researchers found a higher risk of mental disorders associated with having the SNP rs53577.
The SNP also increased the risk for schizophrenia.
“The SNPs are very common, but the odds are so low,” Biesmann says, adding that she and her co-authors are not sure why it is that the SNPS increase the risk in those with schizophrenia.
Biesman says the SNP variant may also contribute to autism.
“It’s possible that the risk could be linked to an association between autism risk and the genetic variant,” she adds.
“I think we’ll see more studies to understand how this genetic variant contributes to autism risk.”
For people with schizophrenia, the SNP appears to have a protective effect on cognition, and Biersmans team also found that it had a protective role in schizophrenia.
This suggests that schizophrenia and the SNPRT variants may be linked, Biersmanthes says.
The genetic variants are not associated with the other disorders the researchers examined, and there is no evidence that the variants cause autism or schizophrenia.
Still, the findings raise important questions about the links between the SNIP variants and mental illness.
Briesman says she and Biermans team are studying how the SNSPs might be linked with psychiatric disorders in more detail.
“That’s a huge question, and one that’s important to get answers to,” she notes.
“Because it’s very hard to know if there’s a causal relationship between autism spectrum disorders and genetic variants.”
Briesmans team is also investigating whether the SNPP variants increase the number of SNPs associated with schizophrenia and whether they cause the disorder.
Bids for more research into the link are still being solicited.
“While this study has provided a powerful mechanistic link between a single SNP variant and schizophrenia, it’s still too early to make a definitive causal link between these two disorders,” Briesma says.