Schizophrenia: a disease of the brain?


The brain is usually considered as the most relevant organ of schizophrenia, but evidence suggests that peripheral tissues also contribute to the disease

The brain is usually considered as the most relevant organ of schizophrenia, but evidence suggests that peripheral tissues also contribute to the disease

Scientists in China have unearthed further evidence that a malfunction of the immune system contributes to the development of schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is a severe mental illness, which affects around 1% of the world’s population. It is traditionally thought to be exclusively caused by problems in the brain. However, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that the immune system has an important role to play.

Lin He and Chunling Wan from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and their colleagues, identified over 1300 proteins in the blood and then compared the blood of schizophrenic patients with healthy blood using mass spectrometry. They found that 27 proteins were different in the schizophrenic patients and that all of these proteins were involved in the complement system.

The complement system is a system of proteins in the blood that are part of signalling pathways in which each molecule activates the next, ‘complementing’ – or enhancing – the body’s immune response. There are three main signalling pathways in the system, which are activated in different ways and involve different molecules. One such pathway is the alternative pathway.

The team backed up their study by showing that the alternative pathway is suppressed in schizophrenic patients. And Yang Li, a member of the team, says that ‘further statistical and bioinformatics analysis indicated that a malfunction of the complement system may be involved in schizophrenia’.

David St Clair, an expert in the causes of schizophrenia at the University of Aberdeen, UK, thinks that the study is interesting and scientifically sound, but that ‘the findings need replicating, preferably in cerebrospinal fluid from patients’.

Li is cautious about the work’s impact. ‘We can't determine whether the alteration of complement pathways is a cause or effect of schizophrenia. The role of complement proteins in the development of the central nervous system also needs further exploration. That's our future research work,’ he says.

 

References

  1. Y Li et al, Mol. BioSyst., 2012, DOI: 10.1039/c2mb25158b

Related Content

Renewed focus on dementia checked by drug challenges

3 July 2014 News and Analysis

news image

'Ticking time bomb' of global neurodegenerative disease burden will be difficult to defuse

The molecules that make memory

26 September 2014 Premium contentFeature

news image

The chemistry of making – and losing – memories is increasingly well understood, as Rachel Brazil discovers

Most Read

Isotope effect produces new type of chemical bond

22 October 2014 Research

news image

Evidence emerges for vibrational bond first proposed 30 years ago

DNA 'barcodes' used to track food

30 October 2014 Research

news image

Milk has been successfully tracked as it is turned into cheese and yogurt in an advance that could fight food fraud

Most Commented

Square planar iron complex breaks inorganic dogma

31 October 2014 Research

news image

Unusual spin state could open the door to new and exciting chemistry

Indian U-turn on diabetes drug ban

16 August 2013 News and Analysis

news image

Suspension of cheap and popular medicine reversed but will now come with new safety warnings