Study into the behaviour of two genes may help treat Schizophrenia

Scientists have been able to link the abnormal behaviour of two genes to the underlying cause of schizophrenia. The findings provide a new target for schizophrenia treatment.

Schizophrenia is a condition that affects a person’s mind and ability to function in social settings.

The major cause of the mental disorder, which affects nearly one per cent of the population, is impaired brain development that eventually leads to imbalanced brain signals.

This is thought to cause hallucinations and paranoia in people with schizophrenia.

“We wanted to understand the mechanism by which the brain circuit operates,” said senior study author Shawn Je from Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore.

Mr Je and his team analysed signalling activity in neuronal cultures that either did not have a gene called DTNBP1 or had low levels of it.

Reduced levels of DTNBP1 also lowered the levels of the secreted protein molecule, BDNF. This can be likened to the delivery of a parcel – DTNBP1 is the driver of the delivery van and without the driver, the parcel BDNF cannot be delivered to the required destination.

Without BDNF, the abnormal circuit development and brain network activity was observed in schizophrenia patients’ results.

Additionally, Mr Je and his team also found that when BDNF levels were restored, brain development and activity were rescued and returned to more normal levels, despite the absence of DTNBP1.

The study presents possibilities for potential treatments for schizophrenia designed around enhancing BDNF levels.

In a follow-up study, Je plans to test if these findings are viable in an animal model.

If proven successful, this could mean that correcting the imbalance within the brain circuits of schizophrenia patients may bring a treatment closer to reality.

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