In a new study involving rats on PCP (angel dust), researchers have identified particular proteins that may be physiological markers of schizophrenia. Understanding these proteins and comparing them to proteins in the brains of people without schizophrenia may one day lead to more effective medications.
It is very difficult to study brain activity in people with schizophrenia, which is why scientists often use animal models to investigate the disorder.
The strong hallucinogenic drug phenocyclidine (PCP) creates symptoms in people that are very similar to those found in schizophrenia. These symptoms, found in both in humans and rats, involve changes in movement and reduced cognitive functions such as impaired memory, attention, and learning ability.
“When we give PCP to rats, the rats become valuable study objects for schizophrenia researchers,” said Dr. Ole Nørregaard Jensen, professor and head of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Southen Denmark.
“Scientists have studied PCP rats for decades, but until now no one really knew what was going on in the rat brains at the molecular level. We now present what we believe to be the largest proteomics data set to date,” said Jensen.
PCP is absorbed very quickly and only remains in the brain for a few hours. Therefore, it was important for researchers to examine the rats’ brain cells soon after the rats were injected with the hallucinogenic drug.
“We could see changes in the proteins in the brain already after 15 minutes. And after 240 minutes, it was almost over,” said Jensen.
“We found 2604 proteins, and in 352 of them, we saw changes that can be associated with the PCP injections. These 352 proteins will be extremely interesting to study in closer detail to see if they also alter in people with schizophrenia — and if that’s the case, it will of course be interesting to try to develop a drug that can prevent the protein changes that lead to schizophrenia,” said Jensen.
These 352 brain proteins responded immediately after exposure to PCP. In general, the drug caused proteins to turn on or off when they should not be turning on or off. This started a chain reaction of other disturbances in the molecular network around the proteins, including changes in metabolism and calcium balance.
“These 352 proteins are what cause the rats to change their behavior — and the events are probably comparable to the devastating changes in a schizophrenic brain,” explained Jensen.
Source: University of Southern Denmark