Scientists discovered that mutations of genes linked to our sense of direction and memories cause a miscommunication between neurons. As a result, schizophrenia-like symptoms surface.
Schizophrenia, which affects about 1 percent of the population, is a severe mental disorder that affects the way a person thinks, feels and behaves.
Scientists at Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University and China's Nanchang University discovered that TMEM108, a gene that can be found throughout the central nervous system, greatly affects how neurons communicate. Reduction of the amount of the protein expressed by this gene decreases neural spines, the finger-like receptors in neurons which enable neural communication.
Credit to Phil Jones; Nanchang University's Dr. Hui-Feng Jiao (left) and MCG's Dr. Lin Mei, chairman of the Department of Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University, Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Neuroscience and a corresponding author of the study in the journal PNAS.
When the protein expressed by TMEM108 were reduced in mice, the mice exhibited schizophrenia-like symptoms.
Dr. Lin Mei, a neuroscientist at Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University and co-author of the study explained, "We knew this gene's alteration likely contributed to schizophrenia and we wanted to better understand how."
To further test their finding, they added TMEM108 protein to mice showing schizophrenic symptoms. The result showed that the spine population restored to normal in the dentate gyrus, an area in the brain's hippocampus known to contribute to new episodic memory; provide a sense of direction; and respond to emotion and stress.
"Morphologically, the mice can be rescued," Mei said. "We hope we will find that healthy function is restored as well, which could translate to a new treatment target for this complex, disabling disease."
The TMEM108 itself is found to greatly influence the expression of the receptor AMPA (α-Amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid). The receptors are activated by the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate.
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