A new report in medical journal Biological Psychiatry suggests that, in some cases of schizophrenia, there are specific mechanisms inside the body which are likely to be causing some of the most serious effects of the mental illness. Research has led to the discovery that psychosis including hallucinations and delusions can be a result of the body’s autoimmune response to one of the proteins found in the brain.
For well over 100 years, doctors have suspected that there is some form of connection between autoimmune disorders and mental diseases which trigger psychosis, and this study seems to show that that mechanism has been revealed at last.
Study at the Children’s Hospital in Sydney
The study discovered that there was a specific antibody response to one of the receptors in the brain, either the dopamine D2 receptor or the N-methyl-D-aspartate glutamate receptor, present among young people diagnosed with their first episode of psychosis. A control group tested who did not have psychosis were found to have no antibody response.
This result may suggest that doctors who have been administering medications to their patients which target either the D2 or the NMDA receptors may be giving their patients the best chance at recovering quickly from psychosis.
Research into the causes of schizophrenia has meant that it is now more comprehensively understood than ever before. In fact, the authors of the study have said that they hope ‘better interventions are possible’ in the future.
Study backs-up earlier findings
The results of the study echo findings from earlier studies which have looked at the connection between autoimmune diseases, such as forms of Encephalitis which block off the NMDA receptors and which are often diagnosed as psychotic mental disorders. In this form of encephalitis, antibodies have been observed attacking the NMDA receptors, and causing the psychotic break.
The editors of Biological Psychiatry have suggested that these studies have revealed the importance of antibody research for neural conditions such as schizophrenia, asking whether antibodies present in the brain could be attacking and damaging the nerve cells, triggering psychosis, or are they being triggered by an abnormality in the brain’s proteins, causing antibodies to attack. The answers to these questions could have important implications for the future of schizophrenia treatment.