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Schizophrenia May Be Due to Faulty Signaling


Schizophrenia affects approximately 1.1% of the United States population over the age of 18 years. It is a chronic, severe, and disabling brain disorder. It is not known what causes schizophrenia, but research has pointed towards genetics and brain chemistry.

In a study published today in the today in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, there is new research that links schizophrenia to signaling problems in brain.

In the study, scientists analyzed brain tissue from 23 controls (non-schizophrenic patients) and 28 schizophrenia patients. The tissue was selected from brains donated by United Kingdom patients being treated for schizophrenia. This data was then compared to an equivalent study done in the United States.

The researchers have identified 49 genes that work differently in the brains of schizophrenia patients compared to controls. This was true in both the UK and the US studies. Many of these genes are involved in controlling cell-to-cell signaling in the brain. The brain tissue sample were taken from the frontal cortical area and the temporal cortex which are the two brain areas associated with schizophrenia.

The researchers at Imperial College London who did the study feed that the data supports the theory that abnormalities in the way in which cells 'talk' to each other are involved in the disease.

There are some scientists who believe that schizophrenia could be caused by the brain producing too much dopamine. Others believe that the coat surrounding nerve cells, which is made of myelin, is damaged in people with schizophrenia. This latest study found that the genes for dopamine and for myelin were not acting any differently in schizophrenia patients compared with controls.

"The first step towards better treatments for schizophrenia is to really understand what is going on, to find out what genes are involved and what they are doing. Our new study has narrowed the search for potential targets for treatment," says Professor Jackie de Belleroche, the corresponding author of the paper from Imperial College London.

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Symptoms of schizophrenia vary but can include hallucinations, delusions, disordered thinking, movement disorders, flat affect, social withdrawal, and cognitive deficits. Symptoms usually begin in men in their late teens or early twenties and women in the twenties and thirties. In rare cases, symptoms can appear in childhood.

People with schizophrenia will sometimes hear voices others don’t hear or believe that others are broadcasting their thoughts to the world. They may become convinced that others are plotting to harm them. All these experiences may make them fearful, leading them to become withdrawn and cause difficulties when they try to have relationships with others.

With treatment, many people improve enough to lead satisfying lives.

The research was possible due to a successful collaboration between Imperial College and GlaxoSmithKline.


“Analysis of gene expression in two large schizophrenia cohorts identifies multiple changes associated with nerve terminal function"; Molecular Psychiatry, 3 March 2009; Professor J de Belleroche, et al

Imperial College London

National Institute of Mental Health (more information on Schizophrenia)

American Psychiatry Association (more information on Schizophrenia)