Gene Regulators Work Together for Oversized Impact on Schizophrenia Risk

Researchers have discovered that gene expression regulators work together to raise an individual’s risk of developing schizophrenia. Schizophrenia-like gene expression changes modeled in human neurons matched changes found in patients’ brains. The researchers, led by Kristen Brennand, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City, report on their findings in Nature Genetics. The work was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the National Institutes of Health.

Genome-wide association studies have revealed at least 143 chromosomal sites associated with risk for schizophrenia. However, individually, each of these sites can explain only a small fraction of the risk. Even when the effects of disease-linked rare genetic variants are factored in, most of schizophrenia’s known high inheritance remains unexplained. One possible clue: more than 40% of the suspect chromosomal sites contain regulators, called expression quantitative trait loci, or eQTLs, that govern the expression of multiple genes.

Full story at National Institute of Mental Health

Schizophrenia: Genes related to circadian rhythms may be disrupted

New research examines the brains of people with schizophrenia and finds disrupted patterns of expression in genes linked with sleep-wake cycles.

Worldwide, schizophrenia is one of the top 15 leading causes of disability, affecting about 1% of the world’s population.

In the United States, slightly more than 1% of adults, about 3 million, may be living with schizophrenia, according to some estimates.

The condition causes several symptoms, including impaired thought processes, emotions, and social behavior. People with schizophrenia also frequently experience insomnia and disrupted sleep-wake cycles.

Full story at Medical News Today

From Schizophrenia to Megalomania, Three New Books on Mental Illness

According to her mother, Sardy’s father was swept away in a tsunami in Hawaii in the mid-80s. He drowned and a stranger took his place. This man was very helpful and began taking care of the family, and after a while nobody noticed anymore that he wasn’t their real dad. Sardy’s mother knew the truth, though. He was a replacement. She called him Mr. Ree.

Mr. Ree is one of many altered realities created by Sardy’s mother — a product of the paranoia, hallucinations and delusions that characterize schizophrenia. Mental illness runs through four generations of Sardy’s family, and this memoir is a dizzying reflection on her unwanted inheritance. While the story initially focuses on her mother and her struggles with the disease, it quickly shifts to the author’s brother and the mental demons that transform their relationship.

Sardy often refers to her own struggles with depression, but occasionally hints at something more. “I kept having moments in which I would look around and feel that nothing I saw was actually there. Or conversely, that all was as usual and I myself did not exist,” she writes. It is unclear whether these are literal insights into her mind, vivid metaphors or merely an expression of fear that her own brain may, as a result of genes and shared environment, be showing signs of mental disruption.

Full story at the New York Times

Exercise: Psych patients’ new primary prescription

When it comes to inpatient treatment of a range of mental health and mood disorders — from anxiety and depression to schizophrenia, suicidality and acute psychotic episodes — a new study advocates for exercise, rather than psychotropic medications, as the primary prescription and method of intervention. Findings from the study reveal that physical exercise is so effective at alleviating patient symptoms that it could reduce patients’ time admitted to acute facilities and reliance on psychotropic medications.

“The general attitude of medicine is that you treat the primary problem first, and exercise was never considered to be a life or death treatment option. Now that we know it’s so effective, it can become as fundamental as pharmacological intervention,” explains David Tomasi, a lecturer at the University of Vermont, psychotherapist and inpatient psychiatry group therapist at the University of Vermont Medical Center and lead researcher of the study.

Practitioners at inpatient psychiatric facilities — often crowded, acute settings in which patients experience severe distress and discomfort — typically prescribe psychotropic medications first, rather than natural remedies like physical exercise, to alleviate patients’ symptoms such as anger, anxiety and depression. In fact, Tomasi estimates that only a handful of inpatient psychiatric hospitals in the U.S. provide psychotherapist-supported gym facilities exclusively for these patients. Instead, practitioners rely on classical psychotherapeutic and pharmacological frameworks to treat psychiatric symptoms, which they monitor to determine when a patient is ready to be discharged from the facility.

Full story at Science Daily

Growing up in poverty increases diagnoses of psychosis-spectrum mental illnesses

Growing up in impoverished urban neighborhoods more than doubles your chances over the average person of developing a psychosis-spectrum disorder by the time you reach middle adulthood, according to a new UC Davis and Concordia University study of nearly 4,000 families who were monitored over 30 years.

The results of the study suggest that intervention through social policies and investment in neighborhood improvements, as well as identifying those most in need of help by observing certain child behaviors, could prevent future debilitating illnesses and the societal and personal costs associated with them, said the study’s authors.

“One important message to take from this study is that the stresses and chronic day-to-day challenges of living in under-resourced or impoverished communities can undermine the well-being of individuals whether they seem to have a vulnerability or not,” said Paul D. Hastings, professor in the Department of Psychology at UC Davis and the lead author of the paper. He explained that while heredity is a major factor in predicting schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other disorders involving psychoses — that is, breaks with reality, like delusional beliefs and hallucinations — this study provides clear evidence that environmental factors experienced in childhood also affect future mental health.

Full story at Science Daily

When neurons are out of shape, antidepressants may not work

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most commonly prescribed medication for major depressive disorder (MDD), yet scientists still do not understand why the treatment does not work in nearly thirty percent of patients with MDD. Now, Salk Institute researchers have discovered differences in growth patterns of neurons of SSRI-resistant patients. The work, published in Molecular Psychiatry on March 22, 2019, has implications for depression as well as other psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia that likely also involve abnormalities of the serotonin system in the brain.

“With each new study, we move closer to a fuller understanding of the complex neural circuitry underlying neuropsychiatric diseases, including major depression,” says Salk Professor Rusty Gage, the study’s senior author, president of the Institute, and the Vi and John Adler Chair for Research on Age-Related Neurodegenerative Disease. “This paper, along with another we recently published, not only provides insights into this common treatment, but also suggests that other drugs, such as serotonergic antagonists, could be additional options for some patients.”

Full story at Science Daily

Neuromelanin-Sensitive MRI Identified as a Potential Biomarker for Psychosis

Researchers have shown that a type of magnetic resonance imaging — called neuromelanin-sensitive MRI (NM-MRI) — is a potential biomarker for psychosis. NM-MRI signal was found to be a marker of dopamine function in people with schizophrenia and an indicator of the severity of psychotic symptoms in people with this mental illness. The study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the National Institutes of Health, appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

“Disturbances affecting the neurotransmitter dopamine are associated with a host of mental and neurological disorders, such as schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease,” said Joshua A. Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., director of NIMH. “Because of the role dopamine plays in these disorders, the ability to measure dopamine activity is critical for furthering our understanding of these disorders, including how to best diagnose and treat them.”

Neuromelanin is a dark pigment created within dopamine neurons of the midbrain — particularly in the substantia nigra, a brain area that plays a role in reward and movement. Neuromelanin accumulates over the lifespan and is only cleared away from cells following cell death, as occurs in neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. Researchers have found that NM-MRI signal is lower in the substantia nigra of people with Parkinson’s disease, reflecting the cell death that occurs in these patients.

Full story at NIMH

Neuromelanin-Sensitive MRI Identified as a Potential Biomarker for Psychosis

Researchers have shown that a type of magnetic resonance imaging — called neuromelanin-sensitive MRI (NM-MRI) — is a potential biomarker for psychosis. NM-MRI signal was found to be a marker of dopamine function in people with schizophrenia and an indicator of the severity of psychotic symptoms in people with this mental illness. The study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the National Institutes of Health, appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

“Disturbances affecting the neurotransmitter dopamine are associated with a host of mental and neurological disorders, such as schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease,” said Joshua A. Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., director of NIMH. “Because of the role dopamine plays in these disorders, the ability to measure dopamine activity is critical for furthering our understanding of these disorders, including how to best diagnose and treat them.”

Neuromelanin is a dark pigment created within dopamine neurons of the midbrain — particularly in the substantia nigra, a brain area that plays a role in reward and movement. Neuromelanin accumulates over the lifespan and is only cleared away from cells following cell death, as occurs in neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. Researchers have found that NM-MRI signal is lower in the substantia nigra of people with Parkinson’s disease, reflecting the cell death that occurs in these patients.

Full story at NIMH

The ways of wisdom in schizophrenia

While wisdom is closely linked to improved health and well-being, its role and impact among persons with schizophrenia, possibly the most devastating of mental illnesses, is not known.

In a new paper, publishing February 14, 2019 in Schizophrenia Research, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine report that, on average, persons with schizophrenia (PwS) obtained lower scores on a wisdom assessment than non-psychiatric comparison participants (NPCPs), but that there was considerable variability in levels of wisdom. Nearly one-third of PwS had scores in the “normal” range, and these PwS with higher levels of wisdom displayed fewer psychotic symptoms as well as better cognitive performance and everyday functioning.

“Taken together, our findings argue for the value of assessing wisdom in persons with schizophrenia because increasing wisdom may help improve their social and neuro-cognition, and vice versa,” said senior author Dilip Jeste, MD, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences and director of the Stein Institute for Research on Aging at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

Full story at Science Daily

Have researchers found a new risk factor for schizophrenia?

Scientists have located an intriguing link between schizophrenia and the Epstein-Barr virus, a type of herpes virus. Now, they need to determine which way the risk lies.

Schizophrenia, a condition characterized by a confused perception of reality, delusions, and altered behavior, affects more than 21 million people globally.

In a new study, specialists from Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, MD, and the Sheppard Pratt Health System in Townson, MD, found evidence that links schizophrenia with the Epstein-Barr virus.

This is a herpes virus that causes infectious mononucleosis, or glandular fever.

Full story at Medical News Today