Researchers at the University Hospital Hamburg Eppendorf have discovered a possible mechanism behind schizophrenia and which may begin in the womb, the online Neuron journal reported Thursday (November 14, 2019). Certain cells in the forehead play a decisive role in this process. The researchers suspect that errors in the development of these cells cause a wrong circuit in the relevant brain area, but which can be reversed by targeted intervention.
Sensitive cells in the forehead
The errors in the interconnection of the brain cells could be a starting point for the development of the mental disorder. The identified cells are located in the anterior part of the brain, also known as the frontal brain or prefrontal cortex. Properties such as reason, self-control or the social conscience are anchored there. These cells are particularly sensitive during the development of the brain. Thus, disturbances lead to diminished brain activity and ultimately to incorrect interconnections in the affected brain areas. This early dysfunction and the late cognitive deficits could be corrected by inhibiting inflammatory processes during a certain developmental phase. However, it is unclear whether the knowledge gained will lead to new therapies. Schizophrenia is a developmental disease the basic mechanisms of which are largely unexplained.
Light in the brain
The team of scientists at UKE headed by Prof. Hanganu-Opatz gained this knowledge using special mice with traits of schizophrenia due to their genetic constitution. The researchers’ most important tools were so-called optogenetic investigation methods, in which light-sensitive proteins are incorporated into the brain cells using genetic engineering methods. Later, the cells can be switched on and off using light signals. Behavioural experiments allowed the scientists to deduce the function of the respective brain cells.
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