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Is schizophrenia an autoimmune disease? What new study suggests

Autoimmunity and Schizophrenia: New Evidence Found


Several past studies have identified a link between autoimmunity and schizophrenia. Schizophrenia also shows many similarities with auto immune diseases that it could be considered an autoimmune disease itself.

Well, a new study has shed even more light on the topic.

Researchers have found a connection between schizophrenia and proteins produced by the immune system. These proteins are known as autoantibodies, meaning they can attack the body. They attack a specific protein in the brain called neurexin 1α, which is involved in the connections (synapses) between brain cells. When these autoantibodies were injected into mice, they caused behavior similar to those seen in schizophrenia.

Such was the result of the research carried out by a team of scientists from Tokyo Medical and Dental University. They specifically wanted to study these autoantibodies in schizophrenia patients and how they target synaptic proteins.

Synaptic proteins are proteins that bind between brain cells to allow physical connection and information exchange between the cells.

The researchers found that around 2% of their patients with schizophrenia had autoantibodies attacking the synaptic protein neurexin 1α. These autoantibodies can block the binding of neurexin 1α to other proteins involved in the synapse.

To test the implication, the researchers injected these autoantibodies into the brains of healthy mice. Soon, the mice started manifesting schizophrenic symptoms, indicating that these autoantibodies could be a risk factor and possible cause of schizophrenia. At least for mice...

But what's the good news here?

It's simple.

By identifying the culprits (the autoantibodies) responsible for a sizable number of schizophrenia cases, we can deliver more targeted treatment for the disorder. It's true that, as it is, some schizophrenia patients are resistant to available treatment. That's likely because the cause of schizophrenia remains unknown.

As we very well know, when the cause of an illness is not known, a generic approach will likely not work for everyone.


Possible causes of schizophrenia

Genetics, environmental factors, as well as proteins produced by the immune system have all been identified as possible causes and risk factors for schizophrenia.

By understanding the role of these harmful proteins and developing treatments that can control their effects, we can hope that schizophrenia patients with these specific autoantibodies can have better treatment outcomes in the future, especially if current treatments have not worked for them.

Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Hope Mental Health, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.  Ms. Woodland with her background in nursing, prefers a holistic and integrative approach to mental health care that addresses the mind and body together. While Ms. Woodland provides medication management services in all her patients, she believes in long-lasting solutions that include a number of psychotherapies, namely cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention therapy, attention to lifestyle, evidenced based alternative psychiatric care and spirituality. If you’d like to gain control over your mental health issues, call Hope Mental Health at 208-918-0958, or use the online scheduling tool to set up an initial consultation.

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