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!
Biofilm discovery suggests new way to prevent dangerous infections
23.05.2017 | University of Texas at Austin
Another reason to exercise: Burning bone fat -- a key to better bone health
19.05.2017 | University of North Carolina Health Care
Scientists have developed a new method of characterizing graphene’s properties without applying disruptive electrical contacts, allowing them to investigate both the resistance and quantum capacitance of graphene and other two-dimensional materials. Researchers from the Swiss Nanoscience Institute and the University of Basel’s Department of Physics reported their findings in the journal Physical Review Applied.
Graphene consists of a single layer of carbon atoms. It is transparent, harder than diamond and stronger than steel, yet flexible, and a significantly better...
The world's highest gain high power laser amplifier - by many orders of magnitude - has been developed in research led at the University of Strathclyde.
The researchers demonstrated the feasibility of using plasma to amplify short laser pulses of picojoule-level energy up to 100 millijoules, which is a 'gain'...
Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.
Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....
Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.
The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....
An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.
We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...
24.05.2017 | Event News
23.05.2017 | Event News
22.05.2017 | Event News
30.05.2017 | Life Sciences
30.05.2017 | Life Sciences
30.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy