A team of researchers from London has obtained evidence that schizophrenia reduces the number of connections between brain cells. The result may lead to the development of a new method of patient care.
Study leader Professor Oliver Howes, who works at Imperial College London and King’s College London, said: “Modern treatments for schizophrenia focus on only one aspect of the disease: psychotic symptoms. But severe cognitive symptoms, such as loss of planning and memory ability, often cause much more severe disability and are not currently treated.” Hawes believes that the loss of synapses – connections between brain cells – causes a wide range of symptoms in schizophrenia. Scientists have previously suspected that neuronal communication disorders play an important role in schizophrenia, but these suspicions were based on postmortem studies of patients’ brains. Now this phenomenon has been first discovered in living people.
The main object of the study was the SV2A protein found in synapses, which, as it was shown earlier, serves as a good marker of the density of neuron joints. Researchers used a drug that binds to this protein and emits a signal recorded by brain scans using positron emission tomography to determine the density of synapses. The study involved 18 adult patients with schizophrenia and 18 in the control group.
It was found that in schizophrenia patients the level of SV2A was significantly lowered in the front of the brain, in the area responsible for planning. “The real progress is that we can now observe in live patients to begin to track whether this is typical of the early stages of the disease,” says Oliver Hawes. The researchers also found preliminary evidence that protein levels are associated with cognitive performance in people with schizophrenia. Hawes and his colleagues are also conducting a clinical trial of the method of preventing the loss of synapses in patients, which is expected to be completed next year.