According to a study published online August 14th in the journal Neuron, it may be possible to head off schizophrenia, in some cases, with antioxidants. The research, still very preliminary and based on animal studies, was conducted by a collaborative team of researchers from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and the University of Maryland in the United States.
The Swiss researchers, including 2006 NARSAD Independent Investigator Grantee, Kim Q. Do, Ph.D., have been exploring evidence that some people with schizophrenia may have too many free radicals—toxic versions of normal molecules, specifically oxygen—floating around in the brain, producing a state called "oxidative stress." They teamed up with the U.S. researchers, whose specialty is studying a rodent model for schizophrenia in which early damage to a small part of the brain leads to abnormalities that are only noticeable much later, just before adulthood. This is thought to mimic a disorder like schizophrenia, in which children's brains and behaviors develop relatively normally, only to have illness strike in late adolescence or very early adulthood. Two NARSAD Grantees were involved in the study from the University of Maryland: L. Elliot Hong, M.D. (2004) and Patricio O’Donnell, M.D., Ph.D. (2010, 2003, 2001, 1995), also a member of the Foundation’s Scientific Council.
In the rodent model, called the neonatal ventral hippocampal lesion model for the brain area that is manipulated, the scientists found evidence of oxidative stress in the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain believed to be linked to many symptoms of schizophrenia.
When the researchers gave the young rodents antioxidants throughout their development, the researchers were able to head off the oxidative stress and accompanying signs of brain dysfunction. Indeed, the antioxidant treatment appeared to work even if it was started later, during rodent "adolescence." Although this is a long way from treating people with mental illness, the results are viewed as promising since they may lead to a relatively benign treatment that could head off schizophrenia before symptoms develop.