For centuries, researchers have struggled with studying psychiatric disorders because it was difficult, if not impossible, to obtaining living brain tissue.
Recent technological advances suggest that, for some purposes, cultured neural stem cells may be studied in order to research psychiatric disease mechanisms. But the problem of obtaining the live neural stem cells still persists.
To solve the dilemma, schizophrenia researchers are turning to the nose.
Although it may seem odd, the idea makes sense because the olfactory mucosa, the sense organ of smell in the nose, is continually regenerating new sensory neurons from “adult” stem cells.
These neurons are among the very few nerve cells outside of the skull that connect directly to nerve cells in the brain.
Researchers have learned that by taking small pieces of olfactory tissue from the nose, they are able to gain access to the stem cells from patients with schizophrenia and compare them to cells from healthy individuals.
“We have discovered that patient cells proliferate faster – they are running with a faster speed to their clock controlling the cell cycle – and we have identified some of the molecules that are responsible,” explained Dr. Alan Mackay-Sim, an author of the study.
The findings clearly indicate that the natural cell cycle is dysregulated in individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia.
“This is a first insight into real differences in patient cells that could lead to slightly altered brain development,” Mackay-Sim added. This is an important finding, as scientists are already aware of many developmental abnormalities in the schizophrenic brain.
Dr. John Krystal, editor of Biological Psychiatry, commented: “The current findings are particularly interesting because when we look closely at the clues to the neurobiology of psychiatric disorders, we find new and often unexpected mechanisms implicated.”