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One of the most mysterious neurological ailments is schizophrenia. Only recognized as an official medical condition in the past few decades, the causes of this disease are relatively unknown. However, researchers at Tel Aviv University may have found a cause that could led to new treatments for schizophrenia.
Published in Nature's Molecular Psychiatry, the lab tests were led by Illana Gozes, Ph.D., at Tel-Aviv University. The team of researchers discovered that a process of cell-maintenance called autophagy was decreased in the brains of patients with schizophrenia.
"We discovered a new pathway that plays a part in schizophrenia. By identifying and targeting the proteins known to be involved in the pathway, we may be able to diagnose and treat the disease in new and more effective ways," said Gozes.
Her team identified that decreased levels of the protein beclin 1 were present in the hippocampus of schizophrenia patients. This region relates to the brain's learning and memorization abilities. The lack of beclin 1, which is an essential part of starting autophagy, indicated that designing drugs to boost the levels of the protein could be a new way to treat schizophrenia.
Their findings could advance the development of tests for diagnosing schizophrenia, as well as improve overall understanding and treatment of the disease.
When unnecessary cellular components begin to build up, autophagy acts like a maid and cleans up the clutter. Essential to cellular health, this process uses the cell's membrane to immerse the dysfunctional components and consume them. Autophagy has been previously linked to Alzheimer's disease, because when the process is impeded, cells begin to die. When this occurs in the brain, mental diseases can develop.
Once Gozes' team members determined the significance of beclin 1 levels, they began testing blood samples of the study's participants. While they found no difference in the protein's levels, they did discover elevated levels of activity-dependent neuroprotective protein, or ADNP. This specific protein was found to be an important aspect of the brain's functions and formation.
Diagnosing schizophrenia with ADNP
After discovering the increased levels of ADNP, the researchers suggested that the brain may boost the protein when autophagy begins to fail. This could potentially lead to schizophrenia being diagnosed by a simple blood test rather than an assortment of documented symptoms.
Schizophrenia is a chronic and debilitating brain disorder that affects 1 percent of Americans, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The standard treatment typically involves antipsychotic medication that has been known to become increasingly ineffective over time.
The research team's results could change doctors' future approaches to diagnosing and treating schizophrenia.
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