Rehovot, Israel--January 16, 2001--A relatively simple blood test for diagnosing the mental illness schizophrenia has been proposed by researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science. The study, conducted by Prof. Sara Fuchs and graduate student Tal Ilani of the Immunology Department, appears in the January 16th issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, (PNAS).
Schizophrenia, which affects approximately 1 percent of the population, is characterized by disturbances in the person's emotional functioning, perception of reality and thought processes. Because the biological basis of this disease is still a mystery, diagnosis is based on psychiatric and behavioral assessment. Still, numerous research findings suggest a possible connection between the disease and an excessive activity of dopamine, a chemical messenger, or neurotransmitter, involved in communication between nerve cells in the brain. This activity is dependent, among other factors, on the number of dopamine receptors on the surface of nerve cells. In fact, postmortem studies of the brains of schizophrenic patients, as well as PET scans of the brains of live patients, have suggested that the number of these receptors is increased in schizophrenia. Therefore, by measuring this number it may be possible to diagnose the disease. Unfortunately, however, it is impossible to assess the number and location of dopamine receptors in the brains of live schizophrenic patients with sufficient precision. Prof. Sara Fuchs and Tal Ilani propose a way of getting around this problem. They suggest evaluating the presence of dopamine receptors on the surface of white blood cells called lymphocytes as a potential diagnostic test for schizophrenia. To examine this possibility, the scientists compared blood samples taken from people with schizophrenia in mental hospitals in Israel with blood samples from healthy individuals.
Since identifying dopamine receptors on the surface of white blood cells
Contact: Jeffrey J. Sussman
American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science