New Results Suggest That Altered Electrical Activity of Selective Dopamine Midbrain Neurons Is Crucial for Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is not only associated with positive symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions, but also with negative symptoms e.g., cognitive deficits and impairments of the emotional drive. Until now, the underlying mechanisms for these negative symptoms have not been well characterized. In an article published online on February 9, 2015 in PNAS, a German-American team of researchers, with the cooperation of the Goethe University, reports that a selective dopamine midbrain neuron population that is crucial for emotional and cognitive processing shows reduced electrical in vivo activity in a disease mouse model. The title of the PNAS article is “Increased Dopamine D2 Receptor Activity in the Striatum Alters the Firing Pattern of Dopamine Neurons in the Ventral Tegmental Area.” ”Schizophrenia is a severe and incurable psychiatric illness, which affects approximately one percent of the world population. While acute psychotic states of the disease have been successfully treated with psycho-pharmaceutical drugs (anti-psychotic agents) for many decades, cognitive deficits and impairments of motivation do not respond well to standard drug therapy. This is a crucial problem, as the long-term prognosis of a patient is determined above all by the severity of these negative symptoms. Therefore, the shortened average life-span of about 25 years for schizophrenia patients remained largely unaltered in recent decades. "In order to develop new therapy strategies, we need an improved neurobiological understanding of the negative symptoms of schizophrenia" explains Professor Jochen Roeper of the Institute for Neurophysiology of the Goethe University.
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