London: Our cells have a housekeeping service called autophagy that cleans up dysfunctional cellular components - essential to maintain cellular health.
This cell-maintenance process may have an answer to schizophrenia.
Researchers have discovered that autophagy is reduced in the brains of schizophrenic patients which may lead them to develop new diagnostic tests and drug treatments for the disease.
"By identifying and targeting the proteins known to be involved in the process, we may be able to diagnose and treat the disease in new and more effective ways,” said Illana Gozes, director of Adams Super Centre for Brain Studies at Sackler Faculty of Medicine in Israel.
Brain-cell death also occurs in schizophrenics, so the team of researchers decided to see if blocked autophagy could be involved in the progression of that condition as well.
They found RNA evidence of decreased levels of the protein beclin 1 in the hippocampus - a brain region central to learning and memory - of schizophrenia patients.
Beclin 1 is central to initiate autophagy and its deficit suggests that the process is indeed blocked in schizophrenia patients. Developing drugs to boost beclin 1 levels and restart autophagy could offer a new way to treat schizophrenia, said the study published in the journal Nature's Molecular Psychiatry.
"Paucity in beclin 1 may lead to decreased autophagy and enhanced cell death," said Gozes, also a member of the Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University.
There is another protein - activity-dependent neuroprotective protein (ADNP) - essential for brain formation and function in the patients' white blood cells. Previous studies have shown that ADNP is also deregulated in the brains of schizophrenia patients.
The researchers now think the body may boost ADNP levels to protect the brain when beclin 1 levels fall and autophagy is derailed. ADNP, then, could potentially serve as a biomarker, allowing schizophrenia to be diagnosed with a simple blood test, concluded the study.