Brain’s immune system gets activated in schizophrenia

Updated: Nov 19, 2009, 00:00 AM IST

Washington: Scientists have found that patients with recent-onset schizophrenia have higher levels of inflammatory substances in their brains.

According to the researchers at the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet, the study’s findings offer hope of being able to treat schizophrenia with drugs that affect the immune system.

The causes of schizophrenia are largely unknown, and this hinders the development of effective treatments.

One theory is that infections caught early on in life might increase the risk of developing schizophrenia, but to date any direct evidence of this has not been forthcoming.

Now, scientists have been able to analyse inflammatory substances in the spinal fluid of patients with schizophrenia, instead of, as in previous studies, in the blood.

The results show that patients with recent-onset schizophrenia have raised levels of a signal substance called interleukin-1beta, which can be released in the presence of inflammation.

In the healthy control patients, this substance was barely measurable.

"This suggests that the brain``s immune defence system is activated in schizophrenia. It now remains to be seen whether there is an underlying infection or whether the immune system is triggered by some other means," says study’s lead author Professor Goran Engberg.