Japanese researchers have found that a genetic mutation linked to schizophrenia changes the way brain cells develop and differentiate.
According to a report in today’s Guardian newspaper, the alteration of cell development in the brain changes the normal balance of neurons (nerve cells) and connective tissue in the brain (glia).
The researchers’ findings, published in Translational Psychiatry, suggest that abnormal neural differentiation leads to fewer neurons and more non-neuronal cells being produced during early stages of brain development, which could be contributing to the presence of the disease.
Dr. Manabu Toyoshima of Japan’s RIKEN Brain Science Institute extracted skin cells from two female schizophrenic patients and two healthy individuals, then reprogrammed them to generate induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), which are like embryonic stem cells in that they have the capacity to differentiate into any cell type in the body.
In essence, the scientists found that the neurospheres (clusters of neural stem cells) derived from the IPS cells of the schizophrenic patients were smaller and produced fewer neurons but significantly more astrocytes — star shaped glial cells.
The findings could help scientists better understand the origins of schizophrenia, a common form of mental illness that affects about one in 100 people and, as the Guardian points out, “is known to be highly heritable, but is genetically complex.”