‘Extra’ brain cells in people with schizophrenia

In a normal human brain, there is a balance between brain cells which stimulate the brain (excitatory neurons) and brain cells which calm the brain (inhibitory neurons). In the brains of people with schizophrenia, however, this balance is disrupted because the inhibitory neurons are unhealthy.Our recent study has identified that there is an increased number of inhibitory neurons below the orbital frontal cortex, an area involved in the social-emotional deficit state experienced in schizophrenia. Early explanations have speculated that these extra neurons below the cortex were neurons which may have forgotten or escaped cell death during their natural course of development.

The red markers show the number of inhibitory neurons in schizophrenia brains compared to the healthy brains.

Our study, however, suggests that these ‘extra’ neurons are of greater significance. Using specialised techniques we have labelled and identified the ‘extra’ neurons as inhibitory neurons.

The discovery of increased inhibitory neurons in the part of the brain responsible for controlling social-emotional behaviour could represent new inhibitory cells on the move to replace the damaged or unhealthy cells in the cortex of people with schizophrenia.

To transform effective treatments into cure, a clear understanding of the disease pathology is required. These seminal findings may transform into identification of a completely novel approach that could be targeted to develop effective treatments to cure schizophrenia.

Dr Dipesh Joshi is a postdoctoral researcher with the Shannon Weickert group at NeuRA.

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