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article imageIs there a biological explanation for schizophrenia?

By Tim Sandle     Jul 21, 2017 in Science
Unusual research suggests there may be a biological basis to certain forms of schizophrenia. Here researchers injected cells from schizophrenia patients into mice to observe the results.
With the new study, mice whose brains were injected with cells from schizophrenia patients, developed symptoms characteristic of the mental health condition. This included the rodents becoming increasingly afraid of strangers; plus the mice slept poorly and demonstrated anxiety. In addition, the mice began to struggle with standard rodent memory tests.
The research is considered controversial because the use of “chimeras,” that is transplanting cells from one species into another is regarded as unethical by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. In 2015 the health agency stopped funding all research that transplants human stem cells into early embryos of other animals. The researchers didn’t do this, according to Stat News, but they sailed on the periphery by injecting human cells into newborn mice, not embryos.
The reason for conducting the research was due to a supported idea that schizophrenia is primarily caused by something going wrong with neurons together with brain’s support cells, called glia. Glia are non-neuronal cells that maintain homeostasis, form myelin, and provide support and protection for neurons in the central and peripheral nervous systems.
The outcome of the study suggests a faulty mechanism is at play, affecting the information path that tells glial cells where to stop and change into cells that perform their jobs. If the research findings are supported lead to the development of methods to counteract the unwanted development of progenitor cells in humans and address some cases of the illness.
Commenting on the study, lead researcher Steven Goldman from the University of Copenhagen told Science Alert: “It was through studies of mice with human glial cells that we succeeded in testing how dysfunctional glial cells may cause abnormalities in the formation of the brain's neural networks, which may in turn cause severe anxiety, anti-social behavior and severe sleep problems.”
The new research has been published in the journal Cell: Stem Cell. The research is titled “Human iPSC Glial Mouse Chimeras Reveal Glial Contributions to Schizophrenia.”
For those interested in advances in the diagnosis of schizophrenia, a companion article looks at recent research designed to trial out artificial intelligence technology to help medics to screen for the disease. See: “Applying artificial intelligence to schizophrenia.”
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