Imaging genetics of schizophrenia in the post-GWAS era

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Imaging genetics is a research methodology studying the effect of genetic variation on brain structure, function, behavior, and risk for psychopathology. Since the early 2000s, imaging genetics has been increasingly used in the research of schizophrenia (SZ). SZ is a severe mental disorder with no precise knowledge of its underlying neurobiology, however, new genetic and neurobiological data generate a climate for new avenues. The accumulating data of genome wide association studies (GWAS) continuously decode SZ risk genes. Global neuroimaging consortia produce collections of brain phenotypes from tens of thousands of people. In this context, imaging genetics will be strategically important both for the validation and discovery of SZ related findings. Thus, the study of GWAS supported risk variants as candidate genes to validate by neuroimaging is one trend. The study of epigenetic differences in relation to variations of brain phenotypes and the study of large scale multivariate analysis of genome wide and brain wide associations are other trends. While these studies hold a big potential for understanding the neurobiology of SZ, the problem of reproducibility appears as a major challenge, which requires standardizations in study designs and compensations of methodological limitations such as sensitivity and specificity. On the other hand, advancements of neuroimaging, optical and electron microscopy along with the use of genetically encoded fluorescent probes and robust statistical approaches will not only catalyze integrative methodologies but also will help better design the imaging genetics studies. In this invited paper, I will discuss the current perspective of imaging genetics and emerging opportunities of SZ research.

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