Study aims to identify schizophrenics at risk for type 2 diabetes

Dissecting the relationship between schizophrenia and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes has physician-scientists reaching across the Atlantic Ocean.

They are looking at newly diagnosed schizophrenics in an upper-middle-class Spanish community to find whether the disease that causes patients to hear voices and smell, feel and even taste unreal objects also increases their risk of diabetes.

Scientists know the drugs that best control the psychosis increase the risk. "We know it's the medicine; I'm asking whether it's the disease as well," says Dr. Brian Kirkpatrick, vice chair of the Medical College of Georgia Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior and principal investigator on the National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases-funded study.

Dr. Kirkpatrick and colleagues at Hospital Clinic at the University of Barcelona in Spain and the University of Maryland note mounting evidence that developmental problems, resulting from significant maternal stress in the second or early third trimester of pregnancy, may cause schizophrenia and related problems.

"The brain has this incredibly complex development where cells are born here and march over here and send communication over here; that goes wrong from the very beginning probably," says Dr. Kirkpatrick of the complex process of laying down normal communication pathways that apparently goes awry in about 1 percent of people.

"It's kind of a subtle going wrong in the sense that if you look at the brain under a microscope, at first blush, it looks pretty normal, and on MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), it looks pretty normal, but there are subtle differences," he says, and not just in the brain.

Patients can have memory and attention problems, wide palates and subtle abnormalities of their fingertips, ear shape and peripheral nerves in their muscles. Psychotic symptoms typically start in late adolescence or early adulthood. "

Contact: Toni Baker
Medical College of Georgia

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