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article imageBrain region linked to schizophrenia

By Tim Sandle     Feb 23, 2014 in Science
Researchers have identified a region of the brain which is sensitive to small changes in memory. The results provide a clue as to why this area is often found to be abnormal in people suffering with schizophrenia.
The region of the brain identified as having a link to schizophrenia is the hippocampus (the memory center in the brain), in particular a specific area called CA2.
With is region scientists believe that it plays a key role in memory formation. Memory formation requires a person to compare current information with previous experience. Here, the larger the overlap, the more difficult the distinction. While it has long been known that the hippocampus is a region of the brain crucial for this type of memory, however the identification of neurons responsible for this comparison has remained elusive.
To study this further, a research team used genetically modified mice and advanced cell imaging techniques to demonstrate that while the entire hippocampus is capable of detecting large changes in context, the small and often overlooked CA2 region is very sensitive to small changes.
The mice were familiarized with one context and then placed either in a much different context or back in the original with small alterations, such as several new small objects. By detecting the expression of activity induced genes the researchers were able to demonstrate that just a few new objects in the otherwise unchanged context completely altered the pattern of active cells specifically in CA2. Mice that had been genetically engineered to lack this CA2 response explored the new context much less than their normal siblings.
The scientists argue that the research is important because early in the onset of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder there is a loss of inhibitory neurons specifically in CA2. In addition to the memory problems that accompany these diseases, patients often exhibit a hyper-sensitivity to changes in environment and routine. This study suggests there may be a functional relationship between this sensitivity and CA2 dysfunction, hinting at a new circuit to target in our attempts to understand the function of both the normal and diseased brain.
The study was conducted at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute and the results of the study have been published in the Journal of Neuroscience, in a paper titled "The Hippocampal CA2 Ensemble Is Sensitive to Contextual Change."
More about Brain, Schizophrenia, Hippocampus, Mice
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