Research on nerve cell circuitry reveals clue about schizophrenia

do not listen to the signal-blocking nerve cells and chatter whether the news from the outside world is important or not," said Hegde. "So, people with schizophrenia may respond to every little thing that hits their senses, such as slight noise in the background."

To test their hypothesis that RGS4 is involved in brain signaling, Hegde and colleagues injected the RGS4 protein in a nerve cell and measured "calcium current," a marker for the levels of neurotransmitters released by nerve cells. They found that the protein increased levels of neurotransmitter, suggesting that RGS4 helps nerve cells communicate better with each other.

Their study of nerve cell circuitry is a new approach to learning about schizophrenia.

"We believe this can tell us a lot about how defects in genes might cause schizophrenia," said Hegde. "Our next step will be to see if defects in RGS4 can actually cause schizophrenia-like symptoms."

They plan to study a simple behavior: the startle response to a loud noise. Normal people are startled when they hear a loud noise. On the other hand, if normal people first hear a not-so-loud noise followed by a loud noise, they are not startled as much as by the loud noise alone. In people with schizophrenia, the startle response is abnormal they are startled by the loud noise even if they hear a not-so-loud noise first.

Mice and rats have responses similar to normal people. The researchers will study mice to see if a shortage of RGS4 causes an abnormal startle response and schizophrenia-like symptoms.

Schizophrenia is a devastating mental illness that affects about 2 million Americans in a year. Worldwide, 1 percent of the population suffers from schizophrenia. The most common symptoms of schizophrenia are delusions and hallucinations. People suffering from schizophrenia lose the ability to think properly and cannot tell what is important from unimportant information in their surroundings.


Contact: Karen Richardson
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center

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