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Evolution to Blame for Neuropsychiatric Disorders?

UCLA researchers propose a new operating model for human brain functioning that may help the identification and treatment of diseases that afflict both young and old – from schizophrenia to Alzheimer’s. Neurology professor George Bartzokis, M.D., believes the role of myelin, the exterior coat of a nerve fiber, represents a key evolutionary change that contributes to neuropsychiatric disorders.

Conventional wisdom holds that myelin, the sheet of fat that coats a neuron’s axon — a long fiber that conducts the neuron’s electrical impulses — is akin to the wrapping around an electrical wire, protecting and fostering efficient signaling.

Now, in a report published in the journal Biological Psychiatry and available online, Bartzokis argues that the miles of myelin coating in our brain are the key “evolutionary change that defines our uniqueness as a species” and, further, may also be the cause of “our unique vulnerability to highly prevalent neuropsychiatric disorders.”

The paper argues that viewing the brain as a myelin-dependent “Internet” may be key to developing new and novel treatments against disease and aid in assessing the efficacy of currently available treatments, including the use of nicotine (delivered by a patch, not smoking), which may enhance the growth and maintenance of myelin.

Myelin, argues Bartzokis, who directs the UCLA Memory Disorders and Alzheimer’s Disease Clinic, is “a recent invention of evolution. Vertebrates have it; invertebrates don’t. And humans have more than any other species.”

Bartzokis studied the reported effects of cholinergic treatments, using drugs that are known to improve a neuron’s synaptic signaling in people who suffer diseases like Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, he notes, some clinical and epidemiological data suggest that such treatments may modify or even delay these diseases.

Looking at such effects from a myelin-centric point of view, Bartzokis argues that cholinergic treatments may have nonsynaptic effects as well, perhaps by enhancing myelination and myelin repair — and the better the myelin, the more efficient the neuron signaling and our “Internet’s” function. Specifically, such cholinergic treatments may enhance oligodendrocytes, a type of glia cell in the brain that produces myelin during the brain ‘s development and constantly maintains and repairs it as we age.

While more work needs to be done to fully understand the role of nonsynaptic cholinergic effects on brain development, said Bartzokis, his hypotheses can easily be tested through in vivo imaging of the brain to study the breakdown and growth of myelin. That will make it possible to directly test in humans the practical utility of the myelin-centered model of the human brain.

Ultimately, it could foster the development of novel treatments, as well as aid in assessing the efficacy of currently available treatments. These include the use of cholinergic treatments that include acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (used to treat Alzheimer’s) and nicotine patches.

“Through these rather benign interventions,” Bartzokis said, “such effects on the brain’s vulnerable oligodendrocyte populations may offer exciting opportunities for the prevention of both developmental and degenerative brain disorders. They deserve much closer scrutiny.”

Source: UCLA

Evolution to Blame for Neuropsychiatric Disorders?

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Evolution to Blame for Neuropsychiatric Disorders?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 23, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2006/11/22/neuropsychiatric-disorders-from-human-neuronal-internet/425.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.