Promising new research on schizophrenia causes

Research by a prominent neuroscientist at UIC is providing new clues to the molecular origins of schizophrenia, a devastating mental illness that afflicts nearly 2.5 million Americans.

Erminio Costa, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and scientific director of UIC's Psychiatric Institute, is studying a chemical found in the brain called reelin. Reelin plays a role in correctly positioning and aligning neurons in the developing brain. It is also present in certain areas of the adult brain, including the cerebral cortex, the region responsible for higher mental functions like language and problem solving.

In a postmortem study of the brains of schizophrenics, obtained from brain banks, Costa and his colleagues found that the level of reelin was half that in normal human brains.

To confirm that finding, the UIC scientists conducted a blind study of 60 brains taken postmortem from individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia, unipolar depression or bipolar disorder with psychosis, and individuals with no psychiatric abnormalities. They correctly identified those that came from psychotic patients by testing for levels of reelin. Controls in the experiment ruled out the possibility that the decrease in reelin was due to drugs the individuals had taken to treat their psychoses or to other possible effects.

Costa is now investigating the mechanism by which reelin acts, in collaboration with UIC neuroscientists Hector Caruncho, Dennis Grayson, Alessandro Guidotti, George Pappas, Christine Pezold, Neil Smalheiser and Doncho Uzunov. In a paper to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Costa and his colleagues report finding reelin associated with the dendritic spines of neurons in the cortex. These dendritic spines -- branching fingerlike extensions of the neurons that receive inputs from a complex of other neurons -- are thought to be involved in learning. The UIC scientists suggest that reelin may act by interfering wi

Contact: Sharon Butler
University of Illinois at Chicago

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