Scientists find a new cause of schizophrenia

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Scientists from Tokyo Medical and Dental University found an autoantibody—a protein that is produced by the immune system to attach to a specific substance from the individual’s own body, rather than to a foreign substance like a virus or bacteria—in some patients with schizophrenia.

Notably, they also found that this autoantibody caused schizophrenia-like behaviors and changes in the brain.

The research is published in Cell Reports Medicine and was conducted by Hiroki Shiwaku et al.

Schizophrenia is a disorder that affects how people act, think and perceive reality. It is often very difficult to treat because it has many different causes and symptoms.

When considering possible autoantibodies that might cause schizophrenia, the research team had a specific protein in mind.

Previous research has suggested that neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM1), which helps cells in the brain talk to one another via specialized connections known as synapses, may have a role in the development of schizophrenia.

In the study, the team examined 200 healthy controls and 200 patients with schizophrenia.

They only found these autoantibodies in 12 patients, suggesting that they may be associated with the disorder in just a small subset of schizophrenia cases.

The team then purified autoantibodies from some of the patients and injected them into the brains of mice.

They found even though the mice only had these autoantibodies in their brains for a short time, they had changes in their behavior and synapses that were similar to what is seen in humans with schizophrenia.

Specifically, mice with the patient autoantibodies had cognitive impairment and changes in their regulation of the startle reflex, which are both seen in other animal models of schizophrenia.

They also had fewer synapses and dendritic spines, which are structures that are important for the connections between brain cells, and are also affected in schizophrenia.

Given that schizophrenia can present very differently among patients and is often resistant to treatment, the results of this study are promising.

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