Page last updated at 01:23 GMT, Monday, 3 November 2008

Brain receptor schizophrenia clue

schizophrenia brain scan
A positron emission tomography brain scan of a schizophrenic patient

Scientists say they may have found why people with schizophrenia have abnormal electrical waves in their brains.

The Newcastle University team believes schizophrenics lack the vital brain receptor cells which control them.

When the receptors in rats were switched off using a drug, the waves changed frequency.

The researchers hope the work, detailed in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, could point to new treatments.

While the origins of schizophrenia are thought to be both environmental and genetic, the precise cause is unknown.

It's some of the first evidence of what might actually be going on to produce changes in electrical activity in the brain in people with schizophrenia
Dr James Stone
Institute of Psychiatry

Scientists have been looking more closely at some of the differences between the brain function of people with and without the condition.

One difference found by earlier researchers is in the "gamma frequency oscillation", a pattern of electrical activity which is different in schizophrenia patients.

The Newcastle researchers aimed to home in on the cause of this alteration.

They used a drug called ketamine - which, as a recreational drug in humans, has been known to cause some of the symptoms of schizophrenia, including hallucinations.

When applied to rat brain cells, they found the drug changed the frequency of its electrical activity by blocking the NMDA brain receptor.

This could mean that people with schizophrenia either do not have enough of these receptors, or they are not working properly.

Long-term hopes

Dr Mark Cunningham, who led the research, said: "We have shown that by selectively targeting receptors we can modify the dynamics of the brain.

"Our hope would be that in the long term this could lead to a method for actually improving brain function, not only for people with schizophrenia, but potentially for many other brain conditions."

Dr James Stone, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, said the research added to other work implicating the receptor, or something associated with it, with schizophrenia.

However, he said that ketamine did not entirely reproduce the symptoms of the condition, and so it could not be certain that the same cause and effect was present in humans.

He said: "It's interesting and certainly deserves to be researched further.

"It's some of the first evidence of what might actually be going on to produce changes in electrical activity in the brain in people with schizophrenia."



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