Numerous environmental factors have been identified as influential in the development of schizophrenia. Some are byproducts of modern life, yet others were present in our evolutionary past and persist to a lesser degree in the current era. The present study brings together published epidemiological data for schizophrenia and data on variables related to photic input for places of residence across geographical regions, using rainfall as an inverse, proxy measure for light levels. Data were gathered from the literature for two countries, the former Yugoslavia and Ireland, during a time in the early 20th century when mobility was relatively limited. The data for Yugoslavia showed a strong correlation between hospital census rates for schizophrenia (by place of birth) and annual rain (r = 0.96, p = 0.008). In Ireland, the hospital census rates and first admissions for schizophrenia (by place of permanent residence) showed a trend for correlation with annual rain, reaching significance for 1st admissions when the rainfall data was weighted by the underlying population distribution (r = 0.71, p = 0.047). In addition, across the years 1921–1945, birth-year variations in a spring quarter season-of-birth effect for schizophrenia in Ireland showed a trend for correlation with January-March rainfall (r = 0.80, p ≤ 0.10). The data are discussed in terms of the effect of photoperiod on the gestation and behavior of offspring in animals, and the premise is put forth that vestigial phenotypic plasticity for such photic cues still exists in humans. Moreover, genetic polymorphisms of risk identified for psychotic disorders include genes modulated by photoperiod and sunlight intensity. Such a relationship between phenotypic plasticity in response to a particular environmental regime and subsequent natural selection for fixed changes in the environmentally responsive genes, has been well studied in animals and should not be discounted when considering human disease.
Keywords: schizophrenia, pyschoses, epidemiology, photoperiod, natural light, prenatal, melanotropin, vitamin D
Citation: Miller CL (2013) Evidence for phenotypic plasticity in response to photic cues and the connection with genes of risk in schizophrenia. Front. Behav. Neurosci. 7:82. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2013.00082
Received: 21 April 2013; Paper pending published: 13 May 2013;
Accepted: 20 June 2013; Published online: 09 July 2013.
Edited by:Tim Karl, Neuroscience Research Australia, Australia
Reviewed by:Randy J. Nelson, The Ohio State University, USA
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*Correspondence: Christine L. Miller, MillerBio, 6508 Beverly Rd., Baltimore, MD 21239, USA e-mail: email@example.com