Genetics of schizophrenia in the South African Xhosa

Science. 2020 Jan 31;367(6477):569-573. doi: 10.1126/science.aay8833.


Africa, the ancestral home of all modern humans, is the most informative continent for understanding the human genome and its contribution to complex disease. To better understand the genetics of schizophrenia, we studied the illness in the Xhosa population of South Africa, recruiting 909 cases and 917 age-, gender-, and residence-matched controls. Individuals with schizophrenia were significantly more likely than controls to harbor private, severely damaging mutations in genes that are critical to synaptic function, including neural circuitry mediated by the neurotransmitters glutamine, γ-aminobutyric acid, and dopamine. Schizophrenia is genetically highly heterogeneous, involving severe ultrarare mutations in genes that are critical to synaptic plasticity. The depth of genetic variation in Africa revealed this relationship with a moderate sample size and informed our understanding of the genetics of schizophrenia worldwide.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Autistic Disorder / genetics
  • Bipolar Disorder / genetics
  • Dopamine / physiology
  • Female
  • Genetic Variation
  • Glutamine / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mutation
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology
  • Schizophrenia / ethnology*
  • Schizophrenia / genetics*
  • Schizophrenia / physiopathology
  • Sex Factors
  • South Africa / ethnology
  • Synapses / physiology
  • Synaptic Transmission / genetics*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / physiology


  • Glutamine
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Dopamine