Studies suggest new brain protein may help in treating schizophrenia, insomnia and anxiety

Research findings presented at International Congress of Neuroendocrinology

Pittsburgh, June 22 A small protein in the brain that has only recently been discovered and, paradoxically, induces both profound wakefulness and a less anxious state, may represent a novel target for the treatment of psychotic behavior and schizophrenia, according to new research presented at the 6th International Congress of Neuroendocrinology (ICN 2006). ICN 2006 is being held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh June 19 22.

Neuropeptide S (NPS), so named by Rainer K. Reinscheid, Ph.D., assistant professor, Program in Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of California, Irvine, is produced by a small cluster of cells in the brainstem, yet its specialized receptors are found in several areas of the brain, including those that are associated with the regulation of arousal, sleep and wakefulness, anxiety, appetite, learning and memory. Dr. Reinscheid and his colleagues reported finding the new neuropeptide just last year and described animal studies showing how binding of NPS to its receptors on the surfaces of neurons promotes strong arousal, suppresses all phases of sleep and lessens anxiety in stressful or unfamiliar situations.

Now, at ICN 2006, Dr. Reinscheid's group reports how NPS also can reduce the biochemical and behavioral symptoms of schizophrenia in an established animal model for this mental illness that affects some 2 million Americans. Animals pretreated with NPS before receiving a drug that normally induces psychotic-like behaviors did not develop the signature behavioral symptoms and neurochemical features of schizophrenia, reported Naoe Okamura, M.D., Ph.D., who is a co-worker of Dr. Reinscheid at the University of California, Irvine.

"Although preliminary, our animal studies indicate the NPS receptor should be explored as a target for the development of novel antipsychotic drugs. Whether molecules activating the NPS system will prove to be better drugs than others used to treat the symptoms of schizophrenia remains to be seen. We still have a very long way to go before proving it can alleviate symptoms in humans as we've seen it do in rodents," said Dr. Reinscheid.

"We've already seen how NPS is unique, being able to modulate both arousal and stress responses. So it could potentially be a target for drugs to treat anxiety and, interestingly, both insomnia and narcolepsy," he added.

The receptor for NPS belongs to a class of those with similar structure called G protein-coupled receptors. Collectively, they have a hand in modulating most every physiological process in the body and brain. Moreover, according to Dr. Reinscheid, about 40 percent of drugs on the market target the function and various actions of these receptors.

Dr. Reinscheid's lab is only beginning to understand how the NPS system works. Thus far, the team's research suggests it acts much like an excitatory neurotransmitter that initiates an impulse by the receiving neuron. Currently, the team is looking at whether natural mutations in the genes of NPS and its receptor might be associated with mental disorders and developing animal models that lack parts of the NPS system in order to better understand its functions.

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Held in a different part of the world every four years under the auspices of the International Neuroendocrine Federation, this year's congress Bridging Neuroscience and Endocrinology is being sponsored by the American Neuroendocrine Society and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The first full day of the program, June 20, was held in conjunction with the 10th Annual Meeting of the Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology.

Formerly the International Society of Neuroendocrinology, the International Neuroendocrine Federation consists of six member societies and seven regional groups, representing all parts of the world. The federation's president is John A. Russell, MBChB, Ph.D., chair of neuroendocrinology, University of Edinburgh. The chair of the ICN 2006 scientific program is Iain J. Clarke, Ph.D., professorial fellow in the department of physiology at Monash University in Australia. Tony Plant, Ph.D., professor of cell biology and physiology and director of the Center for Research in Reproductive Physiology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, is chair of the local organizing committee.

NOTE TO EDITORS:
The researchers will discuss their work during a briefing, "Staying Awake, Alert and Less Anxious," Thursday, June 22 at 10:30 a.m. All briefings take place in rooms 306-307 of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, downtown Pittsburgh. Reporters may participate via telephone conference call by dialing 800-860-2442 (from within the U.S.) or 866-519-5086 (from Canada). From other countries, call 001-412-858-4600. To be connected to the briefing you must reference ICN 2006. More information about the meeting and the schedule of briefings are available at http://newsbureau.upmc.com/ICN2006. The press room hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday, June 20 through Thursday, June 22; Press room staff may be reached during this time at 412-325-6080. Otherwise, please call the UPMC News Bureau at 412-647-3555 or Lisa Rossi at 412-916-3315 (cell).


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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