Researchers at Imperial College London, in collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline have identified genes that control cell-to-cell signalling in the brain and say they work differently in schizophrenia patients in comparison with a control group.
There has been a belief that schizophrenia could be caused by the brain producing too much dopamine, based on evidence that drugs blocking dopamine action are an effective treatment for the relief of the physical symptoms. Another theory is that the myelination (protective covering) of nerve cells is damaged in sufferers. However, the new study – the largest of its kind, examining brain tissue from 23 controls and 28 schizophrenics – found 49 genes working differently, based on the mRNA transcribed from the DNA template. Interestingly, the changed mRNA did not alter either dopamine production or myelination, but instead pointed towards signalling mechanisms being the key difference between the two groups.
A diagnosis of schizophrenia is usually made based on behavioural changes when patients are in their teens or twenties, but this data opens the possibility of earlier diagnosis and help. Professor Jackie de Belleroche, of Imperial College, said: “The first steps to better treatment for schizophrenia is to really understand what is going on, to find out what genes are involved and what they are doing. Our new study has narrowed the search for potential targets for treatment. If they could be diagnosed earlier they could be treated more effectively and they could have a better quality of life”.
By Georgina Lavender