Results of experiments with mice may help shed light on some of the harder-to-treat symptoms of schizophrenia in humans, a new study suggests.
Schizophrenia is a severe mental illness that affects about one in every 100 adults worldwide, according to background notes with the study.
Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City found that the loss of certain cells in a previously unexplored area of the brain’s memory center may be linked with the disabling disease.
Specifically, the investigators said a decrease in the number of so-called inhibitory neurons in a tiny area of the hippocampus may play a role in stubborn symptoms such as social withdrawal, low levels of motivation and emotional problems.
It’s long been thought that schizophrenia originates in the hippocampus, the brain region that handles memory. Nearly every part of the hippocampus has been studied by scientists trying to learn more about schizophrenia, the study authors said.
However, a tiny region called CA2 has, for the most part, been overlooked. And, that’s where the loss of inhibitory neurons occurs, according to the study, published Jan. 6 in the journal Neuron.
Compared with normal, healthy mice, those with schizophrenia showed a significant decrease in inhibitory neurons in the CA2 region, the researchers said.
“Even the timing of the emergence of symptoms in the mice — during young adulthood — parallels the onset of schizophrenia in humans,” study co-lead author Joseph Gogos, a professor of physiology and neuroscience, said in a university news release.
Study co-author Steven Siegelbaum added, “We can now examine the effects of schizophrenia at the cellular level and at the behavioral level.” Siegelbaum is chair of the department of neuroscience at the university.
“This essentially opens up a whole new avenue for research that could lead to earlier diagnosis and more effective treatments for schizophrenia,” Siegelbaum said.
However, it’s important to note that results of animal experiments often aren’t replicated in humans.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about schizophrenia.