Research on nerve cell circuitry reveals clue about schizophrenia

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. Animal research at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center has found how one of the genes linked to schizophrenia might function to cause the disease. The work was reported today at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego.

"Our research in mice suggests that defects in a gene may interfere with communication between nerve cells in the brain," said Ashok Hegde, Ph.D. "We believe this may cause a common symptom of schizophrenia being unable to filter out unimportant sensory information."

Schizophrenia tends to run in families and has been linked to several different genes. Hegde and colleagues studied RGS4, a gene that is believed to control the release of neurotransmitters, the molecules that help nerve cells communicate with each other. Recent studies in humans show that less of the protein produced by the RGS4 gene is found in the brains of patients with schizophrenia.

"Through our research on mouse brain nerve cell circuitry, we have shown that this gene can control communication between nerve cells in the brain," said Hegde, assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy. "Our ultimate goal is to better understand the cause of schizophrenia and to help in developing more effective drug treatments."

Hegde and colleagues studied a part of the mouse brain that has two major types of nerve cells similar to the nerve cells that malfunction in people suffering from schizophrenia. One type of cell gets excited and sends signals to other nerve cells. The other type blocks such signals. The cells that block signals are important in controlling how much communication takes place between nerve cells.

In normal people, the signal-blocking nerve cells act as gatekeepers. They promote communication only if the information from outside is strong enough or relevant enough. Scientists believe that in schizophrenia patients, the signal-blocking cells are weak.

"The excited cells

Contact: Karen Richardson
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center

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