Genetic architecture of schizophrenia: a review of major advancements

Psychol Med. 2021 Oct;51(13):2168-2177. doi: 10.1017/S0033291720005334. Epub 2021 Feb 8.


Schizophrenia is a severe psychiatric disorder with high heritability. Consortia efforts and technological advancements have led to a substantial increase in knowledge of the genetic architecture of schizophrenia over the past decade. In this article, we provide an overview of the current understanding of the genetics of schizophrenia, outline remaining challenges, and summarise future directions of research. World-wide collaborations have resulted in genome-wide association studies (GWAS) in over 56 000 schizophrenia cases and 78 000 controls, which identified 176 distinct genetic loci. The latest GWAS from the Psychiatric Genetics Consortium, available as a pre-print, indicates that 270 distinct common genetic loci have now been associated with schizophrenia. Polygenic risk scores can currently explain around 7.7% of the variance in schizophrenia case-control status. Rare variant studies have implicated eight rare copy-number variants, and an increased burden of loss-of-function variants in SETD1A, as increasing the risk of schizophrenia. The latest exome sequencing study, available as a pre-print, implicates a burden of rare coding variants in a further nine genes. Gene-set analyses have demonstrated significant enrichment of both common and rare genetic variants associated with schizophrenia in synaptic pathways. To address current challenges, future genetic studies of schizophrenia need increased sample sizes from more diverse populations. Continued expansion of international collaboration will likely identify new genetic regions, improve fine-mapping to identify causal variants, and increase our understanding of the biology and mechanisms of schizophrenia.

Keywords: Schizophrenia; genetic variants; genetics; review.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • DNA Copy Number Variations / genetics
  • Genetic Loci / genetics
  • Genome-Wide Association Study / trends*
  • Histone-Lysine N-Methyltransferase / genetics
  • Humans
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Racial Groups* / genetics
  • Racial Groups* / statistics & numerical data
  • Schizophrenia / genetics*
  • Schizophrenia / mortality


  • Histone-Lysine N-Methyltransferase
  • Setd1A protein, human