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December 02, 2008

Schizophrenia

This blog will focus on a slightly different subject than my past entries but will still focus on the most recent developments in Neuroscience research. Schizophrenia, which literally means “split mind”, is a brain disorder characterized by disorganized thoughts and in many cases hallucinations and delusions. One of the horrifying parts of schizophrenia is the late and sudden onset of the disease. The neurological factors of Schizophrenia are largely unknown to scientists and early detection for the disorder is difficult. Schizophrenia onset is usually in the early twenties and can occur in a variety of fashions. Some forms of Schizophrenia can be successfully treated allowing a person to live a normal life, however, there are forms that even with treatment leave the patient debilitated and ostracized from the public.

Recently a study was published successfully locating a brain malfunction that causes Schizophrenia. The article is called “NIH Scientists Identify Link Between Brain Systems Implicated in Schizophrenia” and was conducted by Andres Buonanno, Ph.D. and colleagues at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, a NIH lab. Three distinct brain areas are believed to be a part in Schizophrenia, this study looked at the relationships between the three areas and how a breakdown in the communication between brain areas could be to blame for Schizophrenia. More specifically, researchers believe that a malfunction in the intermediary circuit linking between the three brain circuits could be the culprit.

One of the three systems is the glutamatergic system. This system is involved in long-term memory. The researchers discovered that a molecule called Neuregulin-1 controls the release of Dopamine, Dopamine in turn controls brain electrical activity levels in the glutametergic system. Dopmine can have a myriad of effects in the body and based on what receptor in binds to can have profoundly different effects on memory. It is now believed that an imbalance of Dopamine binding and the effects that has on the glutametergic system could be one cause of Schizophrenia.


source: Google images
The above depicts a Dopamine molecule binding to a receptor. Depending on what type of receptor Dopamine can have dramatically different effects including storing long term memories and even erasing existing memories. The binding of Dopamine to receptors is an important part of the glutamatergic system, on of the three systems now believed to be linked in the cause of Schizophrenia.


This research is a huge break in the understanding of Schizophrenia and is based on the research of many parties. The hope is that with this new information regarding the origins of the disorder newer and more efficient treatments can be developed. Current Schizophrenia treatments focus on blocking Dopamine receptors; however, newer treatments could focus on the Neuregulin-1 molecule or the glutamatergic system. These treatments would be more effective and potentially have fewer side effects then current treatments.

Posted by horr at December 2, 2008 07:28 PM