Scientists have discovered a link between schizophrenia and deterioration of a particular group of brain cells—glial cells—that allow neurons to communicate with each other. It is the first time that glial cells have been identified as a possible cause of schizophrenia.
In the new paper, scientists examined the role of glial cells in the development of schizophrenia.
“We now know that defects in glial cells play an important role in the development of schizophrenia. We also identified a substance that affects the cells, and we’re now testing possible candidates to develop a treatment for the disease,” says Professor Steven A. Goldman from the Center for Basic Translational Neuroscience at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
Maintaining brain function is glial cells’ main responsibility, by protecting the neurons and allowing different parts of the brain to talk to one another. They form a protective layer of fat around the neurons, called myelin.
But sometimes the cells do not produce enough myelin due to genetic defects. And this is one of the most important factors in the development of schizophrenia. If not enough myelin is produced, the neural network responsible for communication between neurons does not develop properly.
In the study, scientists developed a special mouse with human glial cells. Some mice received glial cells from schizophrenia patients with a number of genetic defects, and others received glial cells from people who did not suffer from the disease.
Mice transplanted with cells from schizophrenic patients were more nervous, antisocial, and anxious. Such traits indicate the same characteristics as those observed in schizophrenia in people, say the scientists behind the research. The mice transplanted with glial cells from schizophrenic patients also had less myelin.
The study shows how the myelin defect can occur. Thereby the study suggests a primary mechanism that leads to specific changes that we see in some patients with schizophrenia. It is definitely an important step forward in understanding schizophrenia and to developing a possible treatment.