Page 30-31 - NeuRA 2013 in Review

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Schizophrenia is a devastating mental illness that ranks among
the top 10 causes of disability in developed countries worldwide.
It first manifests during adolescence, causing profound withdrawal
from family and friends, a decrease in intellectual abilities,
hallucinations and delusions.
In 2012, in a major breakthrough, our researchers found that
the schizophrenic brain shows neuroinflammation, or signs of
damage, in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a frontal region of
the brain involved in regulating emotional and social behaviour.
This significant research provides the strongest evidence to date
of a link between immune function and schizophrenia.
Using new genetic tools, the researchers were able to measure
immune activity in the brains of people with schizophrenia and
healthy people without the disease. From the types of immune
markers measured, it’s like the brain is on ‘red alert’, and this
increased inflammation was found in 40% of patients.
With multiple biological causes of schizophrenia, the fact that
inflammation occurs in 40% of cases now opens up a whole new
range of treatment possibilities. Future therapies for schizophrenia
aimed at immune suppression are now being investigated.
Another major study focussed on white matter tracts found
deeper in the brain. While grey matter is found in the outer
regions of the brain and consists primarily of neurons, white
matter tissue consists primarily of the nerve fibers in their fatty,
protective sheaths. In the brains of people with schizophrenia, the
white matter has a higher density of neurons than in healthy brains.
It had been thought that these neurons were simply forgotten
by the brain, embryonic remnants that somehow didn’t die off
as they should during development. However, NeuRA research
has shown how these neurons may be derived from the part of
the brain that produces new neurons, and that they may be in the
process of moving towards the grey matter regions. It appears
that the schizophrenic brain is attempting to repair itself, that the
neurons may be moving towards the surface of the brain, the area
most affected by schizophrenia.
This year, NeuRA has made two significant
breakthroughs in schizophrenia that are
causing a paradigm shift in how we view the
schizophrenic brain.
(top) Brain sections showing areas of the hippocampus revealing
the expression of schizophrenia risk genes; (bottom) Prof Cyndi Shannon
Weickert is head of the Schizophrenia Research Laboratory.*
*The Schizophrenia Research Laboratory is a joint initiative of Neuroscience Research Australia, the
University of New South Wales, Schizophrenia Research Institute and the Macquarie Group Foundation.
It is supported by the NSWMinistry of Health.
Your Mental Health | 29
District views of Randwick