The onset of schizophrenia is not easy to predict. Although it is associated with as many as 14 genes in the human genome, the prior presence of schizophrenia in the family is not enough to determine whether one will succumb to the mind-altering condition. The disease also has a significant environmental link.
According to Prof. Ina Weiner of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Psychology, the developmental disorder, which usually manifests in early adulthood, can be triggered in the womb by an infection. But unlike developmental disorders such as autism, it takes many years for the symptoms of schizophrenia to develop.
"Pharmacological treatments for schizophrenia remain unsatisfactory, so clinicians and researchers like myself have started to dig in another direction," says Prof. Weiner. "The big question asked in recent years is if schizophrenia can be prevented."
Revolutionizing the treatment
In their study, recently reported in Biological Psychiatry, Prof. Weiner and her colleagues Dr. Yael Piontkewiz and Dr. Yaniv Assaf sought to discover biological cues that would help trace the progression of the disease before symptoms manifested. "If progressive brain changes occur as schizophrenia is emerging, it is possible that these changes could be prevented by early intervention," she says. "That would revolutionize the treatment of the disorder.
"We wondered if we could use neuro-imaging to track any early-onset changes in the brains of laboratory animals," Prof. Weiner says. "If so, could these changes and their accompanying schizophrenia-like symptoms be prevented if caught early enough?"
Beyond a doubt
Prof. Weiner and her team gave pregnant rats a viral mimic known to induce a schizophrenia-like behavioral disorder in the offspring. This method simulates maternal infection in pregnancy, a well known risk factor for schizophrenia. Prof. Weiner demonstrated that the rat offspring were normal at birth and during adolescence. But in early adulthood, the animals, like their human counterparts, began to show schizophrenia-like symptoms.
Looking at brain scans and behavior, Prof. Weiner found abnormally developing lateral ventricles and the hippocampus in those rats with "schizophrenia." Those that were at high risk for the condition could be given drugs to treat their brains, she determined. Following treatment with risperidone and clozapine, two commonly used drugs to treat schizophrenia, brain scans showed that the lateral ventricles and the hippocampus retained a healthy size.
"Clinicians have suspected that these drugs can be used to prevent the onset of schizophrenia, but this is the first demonstration that such a treatment can arrest the development of brain deterioration," says Prof. Weiner. She says that the drugs work best when delivered during the rats' "adolescent" period, several months before they reached full maturity.
Now, anti-psychotics are prescribed only when symptoms are present. Prof. Weiner believes that an effective non-invasive prediction method (looking at the developmental trajectory of specific changes in the brain), coupled with a low dose drug taken during adolescence, could stave off schizophrenia in those most at risk.
More research is needed to see at what point changes in the brain can be detected, work that Prof. Weiner has already begun. She adds that the neuroimaging was performed in the Alfredo Federico Strauss Center for Computational Neuro-Imaging, Raymond and Beverly Sackler Center for Biophysics, Tel Aviv University.
George Hunka | EurekAlert!
New study points the way to therapy for rare cancer that targets the young
22.11.2017 | Rockefeller University
Penn study identifies new malaria parasites in wild bonobos
21.11.2017 | University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.
Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite. The most dangerous form of malaria is malaria tropica. Left untreated, it is fatal in most cases....
The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.
Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...
Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.
That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...
Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.
During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....
The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.
Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...
15.11.2017 | Event News
15.11.2017 | Event News
30.10.2017 | Event News
22.11.2017 | Medical Engineering
22.11.2017 | Materials Sciences
22.11.2017 | Health and Medicine