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Brain protein deficiency could explain schizophrenia, study says

New research using lab mice may suggest a cause of schizophrenia. Though this research is still in the theory stage and has not yet been tested on humans, this study could point to an eventual treatment for the mental disorder.

Researchers were working off the knowledge that some people with schizophrenia have been found to have mutations in the gene that produces a brain protein called calcineurin. Mice that have been bred to lack calcineurin tend to exhibit problems with short-term memory, attention and social behavior in ways that seem to somewhat mirror schizophrenia.

In the study, mice lacking calcineurin were sent through a maze as researchers monitored the hippocampus section of their brains. In humans, the hippocampus is part of the brain’s “default mode network,” a series of links between regions that activate when a person is awake but at rest.

The cells in the hippocampus of a mouse with a healthy amount of calcineurin “light up” a moderate amount, and in a routine sequence. But brains of the mice without calcineurin worked differently as they rested after finishing the maze. Their hippocampus cells activated much more strongly, and all at once.

The scientists behind the study, who have written a paper on their findings, believe that if schizophrenic human brains exhibit similar behavior, it could be due to calcineurin deficiency.

If that is eventually confirmed by further research, it could explain disordered thinking and memory problems caused by schizophrenia, and possibly lead to better treatments for those symptoms.

Source: International Business Times, “Schizophrenia Linked To Hyperactivity In Brain’s ‘Default Mode Network’: Mouse Study,” Roxanne Palmer, Oct. 16, 2013

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