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German Doctors Link Certain Genes to Schizophrenia

March 26, 2001|THOMAS H. MAUGH II | TIMES MEDICAL WRITER

A German family with an unusual form of schizophrenia may give insight into the origins of the severely disabling mental disorder, which strikes 1% of the world's population.

Schizophrenia is marked by psychosis (a loss of contact with reality), hallucinations, delusions and an inability to function in the world. Researchers think that as many as 20 individual genes may be involved in causing the disorder, but identifying them has proved difficult.

Dr. Klaus-Peter Lesch and his associates at Julius Maximilians University in Wuerzburg, Germany, studied 35 members of three generations of a family that included seven people with catatonic schizophrenia. People with this variant suffer not only the normal symptoms, but also physical problems, such as immobility, excessive motor activity and a tendency to assume bizarre physical postures.

The team reported in the April Molecular Psychiatry (http://www.nature.com/mp) that all seven of the schizophrenic patients had mutations in both copies of a gene called WKL1 on chromosome 22, one of the 23 pairs of chromosomes that comprise the human genetic blueprint. Ten others, who did not have symptoms of the disorder, had a mutation in only one copy of the gene. The gene appears to be the blueprint for a protein that transports ions through cellular membranes.

Men's Genes Linked to Pre-Eclampsia

Pre-eclampsia in pregnant women is triggered, at least in part, by genes contributed to the fetus by fathers, according to researchers from the University of Utah.

The finding suggests a new way to help determine which women are at risk of developing the pregnancy complication--by asking both mother and father whether their own births were complicated by pre-eclampsia. The disorder, which affects about 5% of women and usually develops late in pregnancy, is marked by hypertension, swelling of the hands, feet and face, and protein in the urine. If it is not detected early and controlled, it can develop into eclampsia, which causes convulsions and coma and is one of the most dangerous complications of pregnancy.

Dr. M. Sean Esplin of the University of Utah School of Medicine and his colleagues studied 298 men and 237 women whose mothers had suffered pre-eclampsia during their pregnancies. They compared them to twice as many men and women whose mothers did not suffer the disorder.

The team reported in the March 22 New England Journal of Medicine (http://www.nejm.com) that men whose mothers had suffered pre-eclampsia were twice as likely to father a child whose birth was complicated by the disorder as were those whose mothers had a normal pregnancy. Women whose own births were complicated by pre-eclampsia were three times as likely to suffer it during their own pregnancies. Those results suggest a genetic component to the disorder.

Study Gives Benadryl Edge for Some Allergies

The over-the-counter antihistamine Benadryl provides better relief for certain allergies than the highly touted prescription drug Claritin, according to a new multi-center study.

The team studied 870 patients who were sensitive to cedar, ragweed and other fall weed pollens and who lived in areas where the allergens were common. One-third of the group received Benadryl (diphenhydramine), a third received Claritin (loratadine) and the rest received a placebo.

Dr. Christine Lampl of Asthma and Allergy Assn. in Rockville, Md., reported March 20 at a meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology that Benadryl was at least 54% more effective than Claritin at reducing such symptoms as nasal discharge, sneezing, congestion and nasal itching. The study was sponsored by Pfizer Inc., which manufactures Benadryl.

Can Women Walk to Better Heart Health?

Walking at least an hour a week can reduce women's risk of heart disease by half, according to a large new study. Researchers also found that the rate or intensity of walking was unimportant--only the actual elapsed time made a difference.

A team from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston studied more than 10,000 women for five years. They reported in the March 21 Journal of the American Medical Assn. (http://jama.ama-assn.org) that they observed 19 cases of coronary heart disease among the 4,406 women who walked 60 to 90 minutes per week, compared with 68 cases among the 5,826 women who didn't walk regularly. The benefit was present regardless of other risk factors for developing heart disease.

Men, Women and Surgery Recuperation

After surgery, women emerge from anesthesia faster than men but suffer more complications and take longer to fully heal, according to an Australian team.

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