Physical evidence found in brain for types of schizophrenia

Physical evidence found in brain for types of schizophrenia

PanARMENIAN.Net - In a study using brain tissue from deceased human donors, Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers say they found new evidence that schizophrenia can be marked by the buildup of abnormal proteins similar to those found in the brains of people with such neurodegenerative disorders as Alzheimer's or Huntington's diseases, News Medical says.

Schizophrenia -- the specific cause of which remains generally unknown, but is believed to be a combination of genes and environment -- is a disabling mental disorder marked by jumbled thinking, feeling and behavior, as well as delusions or hallucinations. Striking an estimated 200,000 people in the United States each year, its symptoms may be eased with anti-psychotic medications, but the drugs don't work for everyone. Rather than rely on categorizing by symptoms, researchers have long sought to better classify types of schizophrenia -- such as those in which abnormal proteins appear to accumulate -- as a potential way to improve and tailor therapies as precision medicine. The researchers aren't sure how common this variation of the disorder is, although they did find it in about half of the brain samples analyzed.

The new findings were published online May 6 in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Based on their experience with schizophrenia and neurodegenerative disorders, Nucifora and his team wanted to determine if the features of schizophrenia brains that are also seen in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease or other illnesses. In these neurodegenerative disorders, certain abnormal proteins are churned out but don't assemble into properly functioning molecules, instead ending up misfolded, clumping up and leading to disease.

Using brain tissue samples from the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center and brain banks at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Texas Southwestern, the researchers studied 42 samples from brains of people with schizophrenia and a comparison set of samples from 41 brains from healthy controls. About three-quarters of the brains came from men, and 80% were from white people. The donor tissues were from people with an average age of about 49.

The team broke open the cells from the brain tissue samples and analyzed their contents by looking at how much of the cells contents could be dissolved in a specific detergent. The more dissolved contents, the more "normal" or healthy the cell's contents. Less dissolved cell contents indicate that the cell contains a high volume of abnormal, misfolded proteins, as found in other brain diseases. The researchers found that 20 of the brains from people with schizophrenia had a greater proportion of proteins that couldn't be dissolved in detergent, compared to the amount found in the healthy samples. These same 20 samples also showed elevated levels of a small protein ubiquitin that is a marker for protein aggregation in neurodegenerative disorders. Elevated levels of ubiquitin weren't seen in the healthy brain tissue samples.

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