Schizophrenia is a rare mental disorder that affects about 1% of the world’s population. The disorder is infamously known for causing hallucinations and delusions in people afflicted with it. Researchers at the Karolinska Institutet have made a discovery that brings some insight into what this disease does to the brain in two studies.
These studies were performed by a collaboration of researchers at the Karolinska Intitutet in a Schizophrenia Project that is dedicated to making great leaps in understanding the disorder. The collaboration is being done by preclinical and clinical research groups along with four clinics operated under the Stockholm County Council. Both studies use patients with first-episode psychosis.
The first study, lead by Göran Engberg, found schizophrenia patients have less GABA. GABA is a neurotransmitter that reduces neuron activity, the opposing neurotransmitter is glutamate which triggers brain activity. These two neurotransmitters commonly work in conjunction in healthy patients. Researchers discovered this deficiency when examining cerebrospinal fluid. They also found that the less GABA, the worse the schizophrenia is. It was theorized through animal studies that a GABA shortage could be linked to schizophrenia, so this finding is a solid step in substantiating the hypothesis.
The second study, lead by Simon Cervenka, found that patients with untreated schizophrenia have less translocator proteins using a PET scan. One of the translocator proteins functions is immunity. It seems that in early stages of schizophrenia immune cells in the brain function differently due to this lack of translocator proteins.
These findings are phenomenal, but still leave some questions. It is unsure whether these new discoveries show causes of the disease, or symptoms. More studies are under way in an attempt to explain this very complicated disease. The hope is that these follow up studies will lead to a better understanding of the recent discoveries, and help see how the progression of the disease can be slowed or even stopped.
Source: Karolinska Institutet