Identifying What Keeps Electrical Impulses in the Brain Balanced—Linked to Schizophrenia

Brain & Behavior Research Foundation NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Grantee Lin Mei, M.D., Ph.D. of Georgia Regents University, expert on schizophrenia
Lin Mei, M.D., Ph.D.

Brain & Behavior Research Foundation NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Grantee Lin Mei, M.D., Ph.D. of Georgia Regents University and colleagues have identified an early step in how the brain's inhibitory cells get excited. When electrical impulses in the brain fire randomly and excessively, the development of schizophrenia and seizures can result. To maintain the brain’s natural balance of excitement and inhibition, inhibitory cells must be “excited.” How these cells get excited has not been well understood.

Dr. Mei, Director, Institute of Molecular Medicine & Genetics, Medical College of Georgia and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Neuroscience, and colleagues identified the protein erbin, crucial to brain development, as critical to the excitement. Reported online in Nature Neuroscience on Jan. 27, 2013, the team found erbin inside the nucleus of inhibitory cells in areas of the brain that control learning and memory. When the researchers removed erbin in animal models, the animals were hyperactive with impaired learning and memory.

This is the third important discovery of Dr. Mei and colleagues in understanding what maintains—or disrupts—the brain’s natural excitement/inhibition balance. They identified two genes important to the process and implicated in schizophrenia, reported in the journal, Neuron, in 2007 and years before showed the genes were also at excitatory synapses, where they could quash “excitement.”

Read the announcement about the study

Read the study abstract in Nature Neuroscience