The brains of people with schizophrenia may be under attack by their own immune system, say Australian researchers, who are offering the strongest proof so far of an association between schizophrenia and an immune dysfunction.
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that significantly affects cognition and often causes chronic problems with behavior and emotion. Along with a breakdown of thought processes, the disorder is also characterized by poor emotional responsiveness, paranoia, auditory hallucinations and delusions.
About 40 percent of people who suffer from schizophrenia have increased inflammation in an area of the brain called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex — a key brain region affected by the disease.
“To find this immune pattern in nearly half of people with schizophrenia raises the possibility that this is in fact a new root cause of the disease,” said senior author of the study, Cyndi Shannon Weickert, Ph.D., from Neuroscience Research Australia and UNSW.
Weickert, Stuart Fillman and a research team used new genetic tools to directly measure immune function in the brains of people with schizophrenia and also in healthy people without the disease.
“The part of the brain we looked at is indeed ‘in crisis’ in people with schizophrenia. From the types of immune markers we measured it’s like the brain is on red alert,” said Weickert.
Recent studies have focused on showing a link between early infections and the incidence of schizophrenia.
“Unlike previous studies, we have directly measured immune activity in parts of the brain known to be affected by schizophrenia,” said Weickert.
These findings of an immune system overactivity in the brain means that researchers can now investigate future therapies for schizophrenia aimed at immune suppression.
“As there are multiple biological root causes of schizophrenia, the fact inflammation occurs in 40 percent of individuals is huge, and opens up a whole new range of treatment possibilities” Weickert concluded.
Source: Neuroscience Research Australia