Researchers at Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at University of California, San Diego have found that neurons from schizophrenia patients secrete larger amount of three neurotransmitters implicated in various psychiatric disorders. This represents a big step toward understanding the chemical basis from schizophrenia which is a chronic brain disorder in about 1 in 100 people. Schizophrenia has no known cause or cure. These findings can lead to new drugs and possible therapies for the disorder.
In the study, UC San Diego researchers and researchers from The Salk Institute for Biological Sciences and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, NY created functioning neurons from human pluripotent stem cells. This method allowed scientists to observe and stimulate human neurons in ways that aren’t possible in animal models or human subjects. Scientists activated the neurons to secrete neurotransmitters- chemicals in the brain that excite or inhibit electrical signals. This process was done in stem cell lines of healthy adults and also adults with schizophrenia.
The neurotransmitter production of the two cell lines were compared and this showed that the neurons derived from schizophrenia patients secrete much more dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine. Scientists also found that more neurons in the cells of schizophrenia patients were dedicated to synthesizing these chemicals than in a healthy brain. This offers a reason for why schizophrenia patients have altered neurotransmitter levels: their brains have more neurons that are programmed to make these neurotransmitters. Scientists are now able to look at precise chemical changes in the neurons of people with schizophrenia.
Future applications of this information include being able to evaluate the severity of the disorder, identify sub-types of schizophrenia and pre-screen patients for therapies that may help them the most.