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In patients with schizophrenia, a variation in a single position in the DNA sequence marks too many synapses for removal and that pruning goes out of control. The result is an abnormal loss of gray matter.

The genes involved coat the neurons with “eat-me signals,” said study co-author Beth Stevens, a neuroscientist at Children’s Hospital and Broad. “They are tagging too many synapses. And they’re gobbled up.”

The founding director of the Broad Institute of M.I.T and Harvard, Eric Lander, believes the research represents an astonishing breakthrough. “It’s taking what has been a black box…and letting us peek inside for the first time. And that is amazingly consequential,” he said.

Scientists open the ‘black box’ of schizophrenia with dramatic genetic discovery