Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) in La Jolla, California have identified a molecule in the brain that triggers schizophrenia-like behaviors, brain changes, and gene expression alterations in an animal model. The research may give scientists new tools for someday preventing or treating psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism. “This new model speaks to how schizophrenia could arise before birth and identifies possible novel drug targets,” said Dr. Jerold Chun, a Professor and member of the Dorris Neuroscience Center at TSRI who was senior author of the new study. The findings were published online on April 7, 2014 in an open-access article in Translational Psychiatry. The article is titled “LPA Signaling Initiates Schizophrenia-Like Brain and Behavioral Changes in a Mouse Model of Prenatal Brain Hemorrhage.” According to the World Health Organization, more than 21 million people worldwide suffer from schizophrenia, a severe psychiatric disorder that can cause delusions and hallucinations and lead to increased risk of suicide. Although psychiatric disorders have a genetic component, it is known that environmental factors can also contribute to disease risk. There is an especially strong link between psychiatric disorders and complications during gestation or birth, such as prenatal bleeding, low oxygen, or malnutrition of the mother during pregnancy. In this new study, the researchers studied one particular known risk factor: bleeding in the brain, called fetal cerebral hemorrhage, which can occur in utero and in premature babies and can be detected via ultrasound. In particular, the researchers wanted to examine the role of a lipid called lysophosphatidic acid (LPA), which is produced during hemorrhaging.
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