The researchers generated NPCs from the skin cells of four patients with schizophrenia and six people without the disease. They tested the cells in two types of assays: in one test, they looked at how far the cells moved and interacted with particular surfaces; in the other test, they looked at stress in the cells by imaging mitochondria, which are tiny organelles that generate energy for the cells.
On both tests, the Salk team found that NPCs from people with schizophrenia differed in significant ways from those taken from unaffected people.
In particular, cells predisposed to schizophrenia showed unusual activity in two major classes of proteins: those involved in adhesion and connectivity, and those involved in oxidative stress. Neural cells from patients with schizophrenia tended to have aberrant migration (which may result in the poor connectivity seen later in the brain) and increased levels of oxidative stress (which can lead to cell death).
These findings are consistent with a prevailing theory that events occurring during pregnancy can contribute to schizophrenia, even though the disease doesn't manifest until early adulthood. Past studies suggest that mothers who experience infection, malnutrition or extreme stress during pregnancy are at a higher risk of having children with schizophrenia. The reason for this is unknown, but both genetic and environmental factors likely play a role.
"The study hints that there may be opportunities to create diagnostic tests for schizophrenia at an early stage," says Gage, who holds the Vi and John Adler Chair for Research on Age-Related Neurodegenerative Disease.
Kristen Brennand, the first author of the paper and assistant professor at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said the researchers were surprised that the skin-derived neurons remained in such an early stage of development. "W
|Contact: Chris Emery|