Schizophrenia is an inherited disease, but other than that, we know little about it. Now, for the first time, researchers from across the US have gotten together to examine what schizophrenic neurons look like at the molecular level, giving valuable insight to how it works that could perhaps one day lead to a cure. What you’re looking at above are schizophrenic neurons that have been grown in a lab that show they have far weaker connections between each other than normal neurons.
The neural cells started out life as skin cells from people who had schizophrenia. From there, scientist reprogrammed the cells to turn them into stem cells, and from there, they turned them into neurons.
Over a period of weeks, they watched the cells develop, testing them to see how they differed from a control group of cells. They already knew from previous studies that schizophrenic neurons don’t form many connections with other neurons, and indeed this was exactly what they found. Neural connections, which are electrical and chemical links between cells called synapses, allow your brain to form new memories, learn, and come up with new ideas. (You can see them in the fine threads between neurons in the pictures that illustrate this story.) But schizophrenic neurons don’t reach out to each other.
And the research team now has a much better picture of why this is. Partly it’s because schizophrenic neurons are low on proteins that help build those connections. But the researchers also found unusual behavior in genes needed to regulate two cell processes (called “signalling pathways”) that help neurons communicate with each other. What it all boils down to is that schizophrenic neurons suffer from a number of problems, all of which make it harder for them to create the kind of dense neural network your brain needs.
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