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Common Antibiotic May Treat Schizophrenia Symptoms

Schizophrenia, Mental Health

Schizophrenia is a complex illness without a known cause. One theory is that inflammatory processes in the brain contribute to this and other mental illnesses, including depression and Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists in the UK are funding a trial which will test a common antiobiotic in patients with schizophrenia which could potentially reduce the inflammation and alleviate some symptoms.

Previous studies have resulted in positive findings when patients with schizophrenia are given an antibiotic known as minocycline, a tetracycline drug that fights bacteria in the body and is used for many types of infections including urinary tract infections, respiratory infections, and severe acne. Minocycline has both anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects and patients taking the drugs have experienced improvements in psychotic symptoms.

For example, in 2007, a 23-year-old Japanese man without a previous psychiatric history presented to a hospital with persecutory delusions (the false belief that others are engaging in a plot to harm an individual) and paranoid ideas. He was also experiencing agitation, auditory hallucinations, anxiety and insomnia. Although blood tests and brain scans showed no abnormality, he was started on an anti-psychotic drug known as haloperidol (Haldol) to treat a psychotic disorder. Unfortunately, the treatment did not have an effect.

The man later went on to develop severe pneumonia and was prescribed minocycline. Within 2 weeks, the infection was cleared and the psychosis resolved. But after stopping the antibiotic, the symptoms resumed and worsened. The doctors reintroduced minocycline, and within three days, the man again returned to his normal mental state. Physicians followed the man for two years, and he remained psychosis-free while on the drug.

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Since this finding, other studies have been carried out in Japan, as well as other countries such as Israel, Pakistan, and Brazil, all showing significant improvement in patients. In 2008, researchers with Shimane University School of Medicine in Izumo Japan administered the drug to patients noting that it was a safe and effective adjunct to other antipsychotic medications. This team also noted that minocycline has been shown to display neuroprotective effects in patients with Huntington’s disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), and Parkinson’s disease.

The National Institute for Health Research, based in London, will begin recruiting patients in the UK next month with Bill Deakin, professor of psychiatry at the University of Manchester, as the lead investigator. The trial will involve 175 patients recently diagnosed with schizophrenia, half of whom will take minocycline and the remaining have to receive a placebo. Brain scans will be performed at the start and finish of the 12-month study to compare loss of brain grey matter – an effect of schizophrenia. Blood tests will measure inflammatory factors.

The National Institute for Health Research will invest a large sum of money over the next three years investigating mental health programs in the UK. They note that one in ten children aged 5 to 16 years has a clinically diagnosable mental health problem and failure to treat these will have a devastating effect on their future. The goal of the agency is to provide intervention at the earliest opportunity to give young people the best chances in life.

Reference: National Institute for Health Research

Additional Resources:
Miyaoka T. Clinical potential of minocycline for schizophrenia. CNS Neurol Disord Drug Targets. 2008 Oct;7(4):376-81.
National Institutes of Health (US)

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons



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