Brain cells suspected to malfunction in schizophrenia are surrounded by a tight-fitting molecular matrix. The exact role of this coating (or “perineuronal net”) was the focus of a study by Brain & Behavior Research Foundation NARSAD Grantees Kim Q. Do, Ph.D., Privat-Docent and Hirofumi Morishita, M.D., Ph.D. The findings, published May 13, 2013 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that the nets may act as protective shields, and when damaged, could make cells vulnerable to toxic molecules.
The research offers an explanation for why this type of cell, called an interneuron, does not work properly in schizophrenia. Normally these interneurons rapidly fire off electrical signals to dampen brain activity and influence working memory. This intense signaling is hard on the interneuron. It puts the cell metabolism into overdrive and generates toxic molecules that can damage a cell’s interior if not disposed of—a condition of “oxidative stress.”
The team led by Dr. Do of the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, monitored these interneurons in mice. They found that the perineuronal nets buffered the level of oxidative stress felt by the cells. When the nets were chemically stripped away, oxidative stress levels went up in the interneurons, and weakened their electrical signals, making them resemble patterns of brain activity found in schizophrenia. Future studies will have to see if this protection holds for human interneurons.
Read more about the study on the Foundation-sponsored Schizophrenia Research Forum Website
Read the study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences