Schizophrenics Lack Vital Brain Receptor

by Gopalan on Nov 5 2008 4:15 PM

It is the absence of a vital brain receptor that makes schizophrenics experience turbulence in their brains, new research reveals.

While the origins of schizophrenia are thought to be both environmental and genetic, the precise cause is unknown.

Scientists have been looking more closely at some of the differences between the brain function of people with and without the condition.

One difference found by earlier researchers is in the "gamma frequency oscillation", a pattern of electrical activity which is different in schizophrenia patients.

The Newcastle researchers aimed to home in on the cause of this alteration.

They used a drug called ketamine - which, as a recreational drug in humans, has been known to cause some of the symptoms of schizophrenia, including hallucinations.

When applied to rat brain cells, they found the drug changed the frequency of its electrical activity by blocking the NMDA brain receptor.

This could mean that people with schizophrenia either do not have enough of these receptors, or they are not working properly.

The researchers hope the work, detailed in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, could point to new treatments.

Dr Mark Cunningham, who led the research, said: "We have shown that by selectively targeting receptors we can modify the dynamics of the brain.

"Our hope would be that in the long term this could lead to a method for actually improving brain function, not only for people with schizophrenia, but potentially for many other brain conditions."

Dr James Stone, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, said the research added to other work implicating the receptor, or something associated with it, with schizophrenia.

However, he said that ketamine did not entirely reproduce the symptoms of the condition, and so it could not be certain that the same cause and effect was present in humans.

He said: "It's interesting and certainly deserves to be researched further.

"It's some of the first evidence of what might actually be going on to produce changes in electrical activity in the brain in people with schizophrenia."