Navigation Links
Johns Hopkins researchers link 2 biological risk factors for schizophrenia

Johns Hopkins researchers say they have discovered a cause-and-effect relationship between two well-established biological risk factors for schizophrenia previously believed to be independent of one another.

The findings could eventually lead researchers to develop better drugs to treat the cognitive dysfunction associated with schizophrenia and possibly other mental illnesses.

Researchers have long studied the role played in the brain's neurons by the Disrupted-in-Schizophrenia 1 (DISC1) gene, a mutation with one of the strongest links to an increased risk of developing the debilitating psychiatric illness.

In a study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, the laboratory of Mikhail V. Pletnikov, M.D., Ph.D., in collaboration with the laboratory of Solomon H. Snyder, M.D., D.Sc., instead looked at the role the DISC1 gene plays in glia cells known as astrocytes, a kind of support cell in the brain that helps neurons communicate with one another.

"Abnormalities in glia cells could be as important as abnormalities in neuronal cells themselves," says Pletnikov, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and the study's leader. "Most gene work has been done with neurons. But we also need to understand a lot more about the role that genetic mutations in glia cells play because neuron-glia interaction appears crucial in ensuring the brain operates normally."

Besides the paranoia and hallucinations that characterize the disease, schizophrenics have cognitive deficits, leaving them unable to think clearly or organize their thoughts and behavior.

Previous studies found that one of the roles of astrocytes is to secrete the neurotransmitter D-serine, which helps promote the transmission of glutamate in the brain, believed to be a key to cognitive function. Schizophrenics have decreased glutamate transmission. It appears, Pletnikov says, that people with DISC1 mutations associated with the psychiatric illness are faster to metabolize D-serine, which leads to a decrease in the apparently crucial transmitter.

In clinical trials, other researchers are trying to boost D-serine levels in people with schizophrenia to see if they can boost cognitive function.

In the new study, the Johns Hopkins researchers found that DISC1 is directly involved in regulating the production of D-serine by the enzyme known as serine racemase.

The researchers found that DISC1 normally binds to serine racemase and stabilizes it. The mutant DISC1 in patients with schizophrenia cannot bind with serine racemase, and instead destabilizes and destroys it. The result is a deficiency of D-serine.

The Hopkins researchers bred mice with the mutant DISC1 protein expressed only in astrocytes and, as predicted, the animals had decreased levels of D-serine. These mice also showed abnormal behavior "consistent with schizophrenia," Pletnikov says. For example, the rodents showed sensitivity to psycho-stimulants that target glutamate transmission. By treating the mice with D-serine, the scientists were able to ameliorate the schizophrenic-like symptoms. Mice without the DISC1 mutation in astrocytes had normal D-serine levels.

Pletnikov says that in the future, researchers hope that they can target the unstable junction between the abnormal DISC1 and serine racemase. If drugs, for example, can be found to increase glutamate transmission in humans, doctors may be able to improve cognitive function in schizophrenics. He says a DISC1 mutation may also be an important risk factor in other psychiatric disorders.

"Abnormal glutamate transmission is believed to be present in patients with bipolar disorder, major depression and possibly anxiety disorders, so our findings could apply to other psychiatric diseases," he says.


Contact: Stephanie Desmon
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

Related biology news :

1. Johns Hopkins researchers uncover genes at fault for cystic fibrosis-related intestinal obstruction
2. Study by UC Santa Barbara researchers suggests that bacteria communicate by touch
3. UC Santa Barbara researchers discover genetic link between visual pathways of hydras and humans
4. Researchers attempt to solve problems of antibiotic resistance and bee deaths in one
5. UNH researchers find African farmers need better climate change data to improve farming practices
6. Ottawa researchers to lead world-first clinical trial of stem cell therapy for septic shock
7. Researchers uncover molecular pathway through which common yeast becomes fungal pathogen
8. Researchers print live cells with a standard inkjet printer
9. Columbia Engineering and Penn researchers increase speed of single-molecule measurements
10. Researchers reveal how a single gene mutation leads to uncontrolled obesity
11. Researchers discover novel therapy for Crohns disease
Post Your Comments:
(Date:5/3/2016)... Lithuania , May 3, 2016  Neurotechnology, ... released the MegaMatcher Automated Biometric Identification System ... of large-scale multi-biometric projects. MegaMatcher ABIS can process ... accuracy using any combination of fingerprint, face or ... MegaMatcher SDK and MegaMatcher Accelerator ...
(Date:4/26/2016)... , April 27, 2016 ... "Global Multi-modal Biometrics Market 2016-2020"  report to their ... , The analysts forecast the global ... of 15.49% during the period 2016-2020.  ... of sectors such as the healthcare, BFSI, transportation, ...
(Date:4/14/2016)... April 14, 2016 BioCatch ... Detection, today announced the appointment of Eyal Goldwerger ... role. Goldwerger,s leadership appointment comes at a ... of the deployment of its platform at several of ... technology, which discerns unique cognitive and physiological factors, is ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/27/2016)...   Ginkgo Bioworks , a leading organism ... today awarded as one of the World Economic ... most innovative companies. Ginkgo Bioworks is engineering biology ... world in the nutrition, health and consumer goods ... customers including Fortune 500 companies to design microbes ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... ... June 23, 2016 , ... ... its second eBook, “Clinical Trials Patient Recruitment and Retention Tips.” Partnering with experienced ... this eBook by providing practical tips, tools, and strategies for clinical researchers. , ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital has signed ... to serve as their official health care provider. ... will provide sponsorship support, athletic training services, and ... volunteers, athletes and families. "We are ... and to bring Houston Methodist quality services and ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... (PRWEB) , ... June 23, 2016 , ... ... today announced the launch of the Supplyframe Design Lab . Located in ... to explore the future of how hardware projects are designed, built and brought ...
Breaking Biology Technology: