Researchers have discovered a protein deficiency that results in mild chronic brain inflammation and is thought to lead to schizophrenia-related symptoms, such as working memory deficits, self-neglect, decreased social behaviors, and the loss of the ability to experience pleasure. An international team collaborated on the work from 11 institutions, including NARSAD Grantee Tsuyoshi Miyakawa, Ph.D., at the Institute for Comprehensive Medical Science, Fujita Health University and the National Institute for Physiological Sciences, Japan. The results of the study were published in the Feb. 6, 2013 issue of Neuropsychopharmacology.
Using animal models, the team found that without the Schnurri-2 protein (Shn-2), a process is set off that causes inflammation leading to damage in the dentate gyrus, a region of the brain believed to produce schizophrenia-related gene expression. The researchers were able to reverse some of the symptoms by administering anti-inflammatory medication.
Comparing the brains of the mice lacking the Shn-2 protein and post-mortem brains of patients with schizophrenia, the researchers found surprising similarities of gene expression in the prefrontal cortex, with 100 commonly altered genes. Many of the genes are known to be involved in inflammatory or immune function, suggesting that genetically-induced changes in the immune system may cause the development of schizophrenia.
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