The achievement is important, because creating an animal model of any schizophrenic characteristics has not been done before. And schizophrenia's genetic and physiological complexities have seriously hindered efforts to understand the disorder.
Dr.s Christoph Kellendonk, Eleanor H. Simpson, Eric R. Kandel and colleagues reported their development of the mouse model in an article in the February 16, 2006, issue of Neuron.
In a preview of the study in the same issue of Neuron, neuroscientist Solomon Snyder wrote that the researchers' findings--along with studies implicating specific genes in schizophrenia--"afford a basis for optimism" that the engineered mice could provide an animal model for schizophrenia. "In this case, the transgenic mice developed by Kellendonk and colleagues may provide a valuable tool for understanding this most malignant of mental disorders," wrote Snyder.
Kellendonk and his colleagues based their experiments on a widely accepted theory that hyperactivity in the brain's dopamine machinery plays a central role in schizophrenia. Dopamine is a major neurotransmitter in the brain--a chemical messenger that one neuron launches at its neighbor to trigger a nerve impulse in the receiving neuron.
The major antipsychotic drugs are believed to "dial down" the dopamine machinery by blocking receptors for dopamine on the surface of neurons. Also, amphetamines, which release dopamine, are known to aggravate schizophrenic symptoms.
The researchers also based their experiments on evidence that abnormalities in the brain region known as the striatum can affect cognitive function in schizophrenics--by indirectly influencing the prefrontal cortex, a major center for cognitive function.