BACKGROUND Although a genetic component in schizophrenia is well established, it is likely that the contribution of genetic factors is not constant for all cases. Several recent studies have found that the relatives of female or early onset schizophrenic patients have an increased risk of schizophrenia, compared to relatives of male or late onset cases. These hypotheses are tested in the current study.
METHOD A family study design was employed; the probands were 195 patients with functional psychosis admitted to three south London hospitals, diagnosed using Research Diagnostic Criteria (RDC), and assessed using the Present State Examination (PSE). Information on their relatives was obtained by personal interview of the mother of the proband, and from medical records. Psychiatric diagnoses were made using Family History-Research Diagnostic Criteria (FH-RDC), blind to proband information.
RESULTS There was a tendency for homotypia in the form of psychosis within families. The lifetime risk of schizophrenia in the first degree relatives of schizophrenic probands, and the risk of bipolar disorder in the first degree relatives of bipolar probands, were 5-10 times higher than reported population risks. Relatives of female and early onset (< 22 years) schizophrenic probands had higher risk of schizophrenia than relatives of male and late onset schizophrenic probands. However, this effect was compensated in part by an excess of non-schizophrenic psychoses in the relatives of male probands.
CONCLUSIONS These results suggest a high familial, possibly genetic, loading in female and early onset schizophrenia, but do not resolve the question of heterogeneity within schizophrenia.