Stem cells show schizophrenic inbalances
Brain cells produced by reprogramming the skin cells of patients with schizophrenia show a range of chemical imbalances that might underpin the disease, new research has revealed.
Schizophrenia affects about one person in every 100 and runs in families reflecting a genetic component to the disease. Symptoms usually begin in late adolescence or the early twenties and affected patients experience hallucinations, depression and delusions of persecution.
But beyond the fact that the condition responds to drugs that block the brain chemical dopamine, very little is known of the biochemical basis of the disease since ethical and practical considerations limit how the disease can be studied in patients.
But now a team at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) have surmounted these hurdles using stem cell technology.
Writing in the journal Stem Cell Reports, Vivian Hook and her colleagues used genetic techniques to reprogramme cultured skin cells, which were collected from both schizophrenic and healthy "control" patients, to turn them into brain cells.
Studying these cells in the dish, the researchers were able to measure the concentrations of nerve transmitter chemicals including dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline, which neurones use to communicate with one another, that issued from the cells when they were stimulated.
Nerve cells derived from schizophrenic patients, they found, released between 50-130% more nerve transmitter chemical than nerve cells from non-schizophrenics.
Also, the cultures from the schizophrenic patients were relatively richer in an enzyme called tyrosine hydroxylase, which is used to make these classes of nerve transmitter chemicals inside cells.
The findings highlight a number of important avenues that can now be explored to better understand schizophrenia and develop improved ways to control the condition.