Link found between brain receptors and schizophrenia

Scientists at Newcastle University in the UK have revealed a link between schizophrenia and a lack of specific brain receptors.

In new research the team have found that NMDA receptors are essential in modifying brain oscillations - electrical wave patterns - which are altered in patients with schizophrenia.

One in every 100 people will experience at least one episode of acute schizophrenia during their lifetime - schizophrenia is one of the most common serious mental health conditions.

Schizophrenia affects men and women equally and can cause a range of different psychological symptoms, including hallucinations and delusions.

The exact cause of the illness remains unknown but many experts believe that the condition is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Dr. Mark Cunningham, who led the research says by selectively targeting receptors they have shown that the dynamics of the brain can be modified and hopefully in the long term this could lead to a method for improving brain function, not only for people with schizophrenia but potentially for many other brain conditions.

The team are now planning to investigate whether optimising the function of the receptors, which are already know to be involved in making memories, could lead to a new way of treating the mental illness.

Dr. Cunningham says the intention is to continue looking in more detail at brain receptors in order to build on their understanding of how the brain works and he believes this could open a new route for the design of drugs as well as a better understanding of how existing drugs work.

The researchers say the brain is capable of producing different types of cortical oscillations and they identified a difference in one particular type - termed a gamma frequency oscillation - which has previously been shown to be altered in schizophrenia patients.

In their research they examined the function of individual brain neurons in rats and gave them ketamine, a drug which mimics many of the symptoms of schizophrenia in humans and animals - it is also a common recreational drug.

They found that ketamine modified the frequency of cortical oscillations associated with normal brain function by blocking NMDA receptors which are known to be involved in making memories.

This latest research shows that the function of NMDA receptors on one particular type of brain cell, an inhibitory interneuron, is critically important for modifying the oscillation rate of the brain.

The Newcastle team believe that the disrupted patterns of oscillations seen in patients suffering from schizophrenia may be either due to this inhibitory brain neuron having a lack of NMDA receptors or that the NMDA receptors on this neuron are not functioning fully.

They say they now have a whole new area to explore in the treatment of schizophrenia.

The research is published in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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