What is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is described as “a severe long-term mental health condition” or type of psychosis that stops the individual from distinguishing their thoughts from reality. People with schizophrenia tend to experience hallucinations, delusions and muddled thoughts, and are treated with medication and therapy.
The Cause of Schizophrenia
A study lead by Dr Goldman, neurologist at the University of Rochester Medical Centre, was published in the journal Cell and suggests that the dysfunction of the brains glial cells (neutrons that make up supportive tissue in the brain) could be the cause of symptoms of childhood-onset schizophrenia; this type of schizophrenia is a rare form started in children before their 13th birthday.
During the metal development of the brain, glial cells form from a type of pluripotent stem cell called ‘glial progenitor cells’. Genetic mutations in these glial progenitor cells stop the proper functioning of the glial cells, thus causing schizophrenia.
The Model on Mice
Dr Goldman implanted human glial cells into a rodent’s brain that had been formed from progenitor cells of human patients with childhood-onset schizophrenia. This showed that the glial cells from the schizophrenia patients were clearly abnormal – the signalling between the neutrons was damaged and there were many underdeveloped cells. In addition to this, the mice with cells from schizophrenia patients displayed higher levels of anxiety and fear, sleep disorders and deficient sensory-motor coordination – these traits are all symptoms of schizophrenia.
Dr Goldman said that he hopes this important discovery will help to discover new potential treatments to schizophrenia. For example, substances that will fix the chemical imbalances triggered by dysfunctional glial cells. He said:
“The findings of this study argue that glial cell dysfunction may be the basis of childhood-onset schizophrenia […] The inability of these cells to do their job, which is to help nerve cells build and maintain healthy and effective communication networks, appears to be a primary contributor to the disease.”
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