New schizophrenia developments discovered by San Diego researchers

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – What could be a chemical basis for the development of schizophrenia was uncovered in a study published Thursday by researchers at UC San Diego and the The Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

Neurons derived from stem cells secreted significantly greater amounts of dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine, which are called catecholamine neurotransmitters, than other people, according to the study, which was published online by the journal Stem Cell Reports.

The scientists also found that patients with schizophrenia — a disabling disorder that affects how a patient thinks, feels and acts — dedicate more neurons to the production of an enzyme that leads to the production of dopamine, compared to the average person.

“The study provides new insights into neurotransmitter mechanisms in schizophrenia that can lead to new drug targets and therapeutics,” said senior author Vivian Hook, a professor with the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and UCSD School of Medicine.

The regulation of dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine are known to be affected by psychiatric illnesses, and they are selectively targeted by some psychotropic drugs, according to the researchers.

Discovering that more neurons are dedicated to producing dopamine, which is required to make epinephrine and norepinephrine, provides another target for potential medication.

“All behavior has a neurochemical basis in the brain,” Hook said. “This study shows that it is possible to look at precise chemical changes in neurons of people with schizophrenia.”

She said the findings could help with evaluating the severity of an individual’s disease, identifying sub-types of the disease and pre-screening patients for drugs that would be most likely to help them. It also offers a way to test new drugs, she said.

“It is very powerful to be able to see differences in neurons derived from individual patients and a big accomplishment in the field to develop a method that allows this,” Hook said.

The study, which included the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, N.Y., was funded by the UCSD Academic Senate, Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, National Institutes of Health, The JPB Foundation, The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and The New York Stem Cell Foundation.

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