Scientists find an important cause of schizophrenia

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In a new study, researchers found that schizophrenia may—in some part—be caused by disordered functioning of the immune system.

They found the powerful immune suppressant drug, Methotrexate, produced promising effects on what is known as schizophrenia symptoms, such as hearing voices.

Though the researchers say further work is needed to show if Methotrexate could work as an add-on treatment for schizophrenia, they found a ‘puzzling’ therapeutic effect on symptoms of early schizophrenia.

The research was conducted by a team at the University of Manchester.

Schizophrenia is categorized by so-called ‘positive symptoms’ such as hearing voices (hallucinations) and ‘negative symptoms’ (disordered thinking, poor motivation, poor social function).

Negative symptoms, which contribute significantly to the disability associated with schizophrenia are hard to treat with currently available medication.

Methotrexate is often used to treat inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease.

Inflammatory and autoimmune conditions are more common in patients with schizophrenia, possibly indicating that there is a shared underlying cause of these diseases.

The team says methotrexate is thought to help treat autoimmune disorders by resetting the way T cells—an important part of the immune system—work.

This action on the central nervous system may account for the improvement in symptoms they found in the study.

They used a low 10mg dose of the drug, which was given alongside the patients’ routine psychiatric medication.

No strong side-effects were reported by the patients taking Methotrexate, suggesting it was relatively well tolerated.

The team says the lowest clinically effective dose in autoimmune disorders which often needs to be increased to higher doses could produce a more powerful effect in schizophrenia.

The findings show that immune systems could be involved in schizophrenia and that raises fascinating questions.

One author of the study is Professor Imran Chaudhry from The University of Manchester.

The study is published in the Journal of Translational Psychiatry.

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