New Japanese research makes use of human hair as schizophrenia biomarker

November 6, 2019

Schizophrenia is a widely misunderstood disease – diagnosed mostly through behavioural tests, the condition is hard to detect and treat. Recently, a team of Japanese researchers from the RIKEN Research Institute, based in Tokyo, has identified a possible biomarker in human hair, which would enable much easier diagnoses. In addition, the researchers have suggested a novel hypothesis concerning the cause of a subtype of schizophrenia and are also testing new drugs against it.

A majority of individuals suffering from schizophrenia exhibit low levels of PPI (prepulse inhibition; a behavioural biomarker) which means the individual is unable to effectively filter sensory information.

In the research, PPI, suppressing an enzyme called MPST seemed to result in a rise of PPI inmice with extremely low levels of it -MPST is known to produce hydrogen sulfide, and subsequent research affirms high hydrogen sulfide levels in the brains of the low-PPI mice.Meanwhile, most of 150 human patients with schizophrenia, who provided hair samples, were observed to show higher expressions of the MPST gene. Human hair follicles could thus be a useful diagnostic biomarker and a low-cost alternative to detect the disease.

Mammalian brains generally produce hydrogen sulfide as a protective agent against inflammatory stress. The research discovered that early stresses, either during foetal development or at very young ages, are thought to cause the brain to overproduce hydrogen sulfide, and well into adulthood, to ultimately result in “sulfide stress”-induced schizophrenia.

While no one has ever thought about a causal link between hydrogen sulfide and schizophrenia, lead researcher Takeo Yoshikawa explains a pressing need for new ideas and research pathways in the treatment of schizophrenia.

“Currently, about 30% of patients with schizophrenia are resistant to a popular dopamine receptor antagonist therapy. Our results provide a new principle for designing drugs, and we are currently testing whether inhibiting the synthesis of hydrogen sulfide can alleviate symptoms in mouse models of schizophrenia.”

Category: Features, Top Story

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