Our response to COVID-19

We're supporting people to maintain their wellbeing and manage isolation.

NeuRA Magazine #20

NOVEL INSIGHTS INTO DOPAMINE DYSFUNCTION

Understanding how more precisely dopamine is changed in the brains of people with schizophrenia will help us to better understand the main path that leads to developing the disorder.

Dr Tertia Purves Tyson

While there are many roads leading to the development of schizophrenia, one often considered a final common pathway is the dysregulation of dopamine. Too much dopamine in particular region of the brain – the subcortex – contributes to the psychotic symptoms seen in schizophrenia.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps to control the brain’s reward and pleasure centre, and regulates our emotions. Antipsychotics are designed to block dopamine receptors, and reduce the amount of dopamine action in the brain. Unfortunately, antipsychotics do not work for everyone and have serious side effects.

A better understanding of how and where dopamine is changed in the brains of people with schizophrenia will help us to understand how to more accurately correct or prevent this disruption and thus help to design more targeted approaches to treatment.

A new study from the Schizophrenia Research Lab has identified molecular changes in the brains of people with schizophrenia, which offers support for and extends the dopamine hypothesis.

The new study from Dr Tertia Purves-Tyson compared tissue from deep in the brain (midbrain) of people with and without schizophrenia. This brain region has not previously been given the attention it deserves in schizophrenia research on human brains donated after death. The study found that the genes of molecules that are responsible for regulating the amount of dopamine and for regulating the reaction to dopamine (receptors) are altered in people with schizophrenia.

These alterations in gene expression implicate a new suspect as a major contributor to dopamine dysregulation, namely a massive decrease in dopamine transporter. This 66% reduction in this important molecule would mean that dopamine may be allowed to stay in the synapse longer than it should and suggests that novel treatments aimed at ramping up the synthesis and function of this in schizophrenia could be of benefit. To our knowledge, dopamine transporter has not been used as a treatment target ever before.

This study begins to address a vital knowledge gap in schizophrenia research with regards to how dopamine in the midbrain contributes to dopamine dysfunction. This will help us to better understand the dopamine dysregulation that is found in schizophrenia and, potentially, how we can better treat it.

See what’s going on at NeuRA

FEEL THE BUZZ IN THE AIR? US TOO.

The RESTORE Trial: Immersive Virtual Reality Treatment for Restoring Touch Perception in People with Discomplete Paraplegia

Chief Investigators: Associate Professor Sylvia Gustin, Prof James Middleton, A/Prof Zina Trost, Prof Ashley Craig, Prof Jim Elliott, Dr Negin Hesam-Shariati, Corey Shum and James Stanley While recognition of surviving pathways in complete injuries has tremendous implications for SCI rehabilitation, currently no effective treatments exist to promote or restore touch perception among those with discomplete SCI. The proposed study will address this need by developing and testing a novel intervention that can provide touch restoration via the primary source of sensory perception: the brain.Complete spinal cord injury (SCI) is associated with a complete loss of function such as mobility or sensation. In a recent discovery we revealed that 50% of people with complete SCI still have surviving somatosensory nerve fibres at the level of the spine. For those with complete SCI this is hopeful news as it means -- contrary to previous belief that communication to the brain had been severed by injury -- that the brain is still receiving messages. This new SCI type is labelled “discomplete SCI” -- a SCI person who cannot feel touch, but touch information is still forwarded from the foot to the brain. The project will use virtual reality (VR) in a way it has never been used before. We will develop the first immersive VR interface that simultaneously enhances surviving spinal somatosensory nerve fibres and touch signals in the brain in an effort to restore touch perception in people with discomplete SCI. In other words, immersive VR is being used to re-train the brain to identify the distorted signals from toe to head as sensation (touch). For example, participants will receive touch simulation in the real world (e.g., their toe) while at the same time receiving corresponding multisensory touch stimuli in the virtual world (e.g., experiencing walking up to kick a ball). This project is the first effort worldwide to restore touch sensation in 50% of individuals with complete injuries. The outcomes to be achieved from the current study will represent a cultural and scientific paradigmatic shift in terms of what can be expected from life with a spinal cord injury. In addition, the project allows potential identification of brain mechanisms that may ultimately represent direct targets for acute discomplete SCI rehabilitation, including efforts to preserve rather than restore touch perception following SCI. RESTORE consolidates the expertise of scientists, clinicians, VR developers and stakeholders from NeuRA and UNSW School of Psychology (A/Prof Sylvia Gustin, Dr Negin Hesam-Shariati), John Walsh Centre for Rehabilitation Research, Kolling Institute and University of Sydney (Prof James Middleton, Prof Ashley Craig and Prof Jim Elliott), Virginia Commonwealth University (A/Prof Zina Trost), Immersive Experience Laboratories LLC (Director Corey Shum) and James Stanley. If you are interested in being contacted about the RESTORE trial, please email A/Prof Sylvia Gustin (s.gustin@unsw.edu.au) and include your name, phone number, address, type of SCI (e.g., complete or incomplete), level of injury (e.g., T12) and duration of SCI (e.g., 5 years).
PROJECT