Clues to the Origin of Schizophrenia Discovered

May 20, 2016
Schizophrenia Origins

A severe mental disorder that affects how a person feels, thinks and behaves, schizophrenia can result in hallucinations, delusions, movement disorders, memory problems and a number of other disabling symptoms. For years, scientists speculated about genetic and environmental causes. Now, thanks to a recent study, experts have gained new insight into the potential causes of schizophrenia, allowing for exciting treatment possibilities.
When Natural Events Go Haywire
According to a study published in the journal Nature, schizophrenia appears to occur during adolescence and early adulthood when a specific process in brain development goes awry. Conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School in Boston, the study focused on the natural process of "synaptic pruning" during which, extra brain cells and synapses are removed in the cerebral cortex to increase overall brain function and efficiency.
According to the researchers, strong evidence suggests schizophrenia occurs when the C4 gene tags the wrong synapses for destruction, resulting in the over-elimination of synapses and brain wiring that is no longer able to perform many basic functions.
To reach their findings, researchers looked at genetic data for more than 65,000 people. Ultimately, they found that subjects with particular forms of the C4 gene also had a much higher risk of developing schizophrenia.
Contradicting Previous Theories
The C4 gene normally acts as an immune system regulator, targeting pathogens for destruction. This led many experts to suspect that schizophrenia might be caused by a virus or infection. According to the findings in this recent study, however, C4 also plays a role in synaptic pruning by tagging synapses for elimination. This discovery appears to eliminate pathogens as a potential cause of the mental disorder; however, experts say it's still too soon to rule out environmental factors as potential causes for C4 misbehavior.
Paving the Way for New Treatments
Currently, schizophrenia is treated with antipsychotic medications, rehabilitation and therapy. Thanks to this new discovery, new treatments and possible preventative strategies could be on the way. In the meantime, if you or someone you love appears to be showing signs of a mental disorder, seek an evaluation from your healthcare professional. With early intervention, many schizophrenics experience significant improvement that helps them function much better in day-to-day life.

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