At first glance, it seems like schizophrenia and autism are completely different , but a new discovery shows us that they have similar roots, linked with other mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder. Comparable traits are seen in both disorders, including a limited ability to lead a normal life and function in the real world, as well as social and cognitive dysfunction.

New research by Dr. Mark Weiser of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Sheba Medical Center has revealed a genetic connection between these two autism and schizophrenia, causing an elevated risk within families.

Weiser and his team examined extensive databases in Israel and Sweden and found that people with a schizophrenic sibling are 12 times more likely to have autism than those without schizophrenia in the family.

People that had a sibling with bipolar disorder showed a similar relationship, but to a minor degree.

Researchers used three data sets to measure the familial association between autism and schizophrenia. The Israeli database contained anonymous information about more than a million soldiers, including patients with schizophrenia and autism.

The authors noted that the same results were found in all three sets of data, making these findings extremely significant.

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), which includes autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, and Asperger Syndrome, are represented by repetitive behaviors, or difficulty with social communication and interaction. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Management says one in 88 children in the US fall on the Autism spectrum, a distressing jump in the previous four decades.

A previous study suggested a genetic link between autism and schizophrenia and will use that idea to study mice with these genetic mutations.Their effort will see how effective a combination of medications used to treat both disorders could be.

Published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, the results of this particular study provide new insight on the genetics of these stressful disorders. The authors believe these results will aid scientists in better understanding the genetics of mental illness.

Dr. Weiser says, “understanding the genetic connection could be a missing link”, and encourages a novel direction for future studies. His team plans to build on this research by heading in the clinical direction.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald