Naked Scientists Podcast

Naked Scientists episode

Wed, 17th Jul 2013

The Science of Schizophrenia

Headache (c) Jmh649@wikipedia

What do sufferers of schizophrenia experience, and why? Might the immune system be to blame? And could an avatar be the answer to treatment? This week we delve deep into the brain circuitry behind this psychiatric condition to uncover the causes, hear what drugs like ketamine can reveal about hallucinations and how a cartoon representation of the voices plaguing patients can block the symptoms. Plus, chemically induced pluripotent stem cells, a gene that leads carriers into snacking temptation and why babies can tolerate extended periods upside down inside their mothers...?

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In this edition of Naked Scientists

Full Transcript

  • 40:37 - Can antibodies cause schizophrenia?

    Could the immune system cause schizophrenia in some cases? Antibodies targeting certain nerve cells are present in some patients...

  • 46:53 - Why would a mirror begin to magnify things?

    We have a small hand mirror which we had for 10 years one day my wife used it and it had suddenly magnified itself like a shaving mirror so we bought another mirror. A few days later we picked up the old mirror and it was back to normal. Is there any explanation for this? I ...

  • 48:22 - Why do I fall asleep in lectures?

    Why am I not able to stay awake during lectures at university? Lectures I find riveting and most of the time, there's not much else I'd rather be doing than listening to my professors talk about receptor theory or neurophysiology. The same as when I'm driving at night, my eyelids...

  • 50:20 - Why does uranus glow?

    Why does the outer gas planets reflect light at nighttime?

  • 51:36 - Upside down babies in the womb

    Dear Naked Scientist. I have a question that has bugged me for weeks and I hope you can shed some light on it. I am approaching the end of my third trimester. The baby has got itself into the right position, which is great!! Though this is were my question lies. A unborn baby'...

 

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If the immune system comes to regard a neurotransmitter as "hostile", that could cause an immune attack on the brain.
There are (at least) 3 possible immune targets for each neurotransmitter:

The neurotransmitter itself

The cell producing the neurotransmitter

The receptor for the neurotransmitter

Possibly the enzymes which break down the neurotransmitter (ready for the next signal via this neurotransmitter)

...and there  are multiple points on each of these which could become an antigen

The Thymus gland in children "educates" the immune system that certain proteins are "normal", and should not be attacked. However, the Thymus shrinks in adolescence, and if the immune system is activated as an adult, the Thymus won't be able to protect those tissues.

Perhaps we need an "Artificial Thymus" which educates the immune system that these neurotransmitters are "normal", which would dampen the immune response against the specific neurotransmitter, without affecting the immune response to genuine attackers (bacteria & viruses).

(It has recently been reported that it is possible to detect some people at risk of developing Type 1 diabetes by detecting an immune response to insulin. It is suggested that this then develops into an immune attack on the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Perhaps an Artificial Thymus could help here too?) evan_au, Fri, 19th Jul 2013

There is peripheral tolerance though, evan. So even in the absence of a functional thymus it should be possible to tolerise or maintain tolerance. However, what might underlie some of these diseases is the loss of regulatory T cells that suppress responses to certain epitopes / targets. Lose this control and weakly / suppressed clones of partially self-reactive T cells or B cells can expand. Chris, Sun, 21st Jul 2013

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