Cured guinea pigs with a basic symptom of schizophrenia
Greek researchers in the US have announced that they have restored a major symptom of schizophrenia, working memory disorder to rodents. To date, this malfunction has been impossible to cure in people with this particular mental illness, thus the study opens up possibilities for a new treatment for people diagnosed with schizophrenia.
The scientists, led by professors Joseph Gogos and Stavros Lombardas of the Zuckerman Institute for the Mind and Brain at Columbia University in New York, published the paper in the “Neuron Science” journal.
Working memory is a fundamental function of the brain, as it immediately holds and retrieves various useful information (eg a new phone number). This memory function is severely disturbed in patients with schizophrenia, which has implications for the way they think, perceive and decide, making it difficult to work, maintain a relationship, and more.
Most well-known symptoms of schizophrenia, such as paranoia, acoustic hallucinations, and hallucinations, can often be controlled by antipsychotic medications. On the contrary, no effective drug has been found so far for working memory disorder.
The Greek scientists have re-used a drug that is currently being developed for leukemia, thereby succeeding in restoring the function of brain cells in animals and restoring the working memory of schizophrenic mice.
The achievement calls into question the generally accepted belief that cellular disorders, which are caused by memory disorders in cases of schizophrenia, cannot be cured once symptoms of dysfunction occur. This gives hope to more than 21 million people – diagnosed with schizophrenia worldwide – that in the future their memory may work well again.
“Schizophrenia is considered a neurodevelopmental disorder that begins years before it can be truly diagnosed, which makes it extremely difficult to understand and cure the underlying mechanisms of the disease. Our research shows a new path forward: The use of genetic studies to find drugs that restore normal cognitive and cellular function in the adult brain after the onset of the disease, “said Dr. Gogos.
Researchers have focused on the SETD1A gene that produces a protein that regulates the activity of other genes. Among other things, this gene is important for the smooth development of embryos, while in 2014 Mr. Gogos research team discovered that gene mutations are linked to schizophrenia in humans.
Mr. Gogos research team worked with another Greek team at the same University Institute, Stavros Lombardas, to investigate in-depth the role of the SETD1A gene, as well as ways to “manipulate” it, which they succeeded in of another gene, LSD1 (no relation to the homonymous psychedelic drug). Eventually, they were able to dramatically improve the memory of mice with a schizophrenia-like disorder.
Mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, have proven difficult to treat, in part because they do not have only one cause, genetic (eg, a defective gene) or another, as various genetic and environmental factors appear to be involved and intertwined.
“Although mutations in the SETD1A gene are present in a small proportion of total schizophrenia patients, many people diagnosed with this disorder have problems similar to those caused by this mutation. Therefore, SETD1A-specific therapies may, in fact, have a broader overall impact on schizophrenia,” said Gogos.
Researchers will continue to investigate the therapeutic potential of LSD1 inhibitors and therefore SETD1A for schizophrenia. Currently, these drugs are in the early stages of clinical trials in patients with leukemia and other cancers, but may also be used in patients with schizophrenia in the future.
Mr. Gogos studied at the University of Athens School of Medicine and received his doctorate from Harvard University, USA. He is currently a Professor of Physiology and Neuroscience at Columbia University and a principal researcher at Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute at the same university. Mr. Lombardas studied at the University of Crete and is currently a Professor of Biochemistry and Neuroscience in Columbia, as well as a researcher at the Zuckerman Institute.
The new research, supported by the US National Institutes of Health, involved another Greek woman, Dr. Anastasia Diamantopoulou.