New biosensors show how drugs used to treat schizophrenia work
London: New biosensors developed by researchers from the University of California, San Diego have successfully shown how a popular class of drugs used to treat schizophrenia works.
The biosensors have revealed previously hidden components of chemical communication in the brain.
A class of drugs called atypical neuroleptics has become the most commonly prescribed treatment for schizophrenia, in part for their ability to improve these cognitive functions.
But how they altered brain chemistry was uncertain.
The neuroleptics elicit large releases of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine
To identify the mechanism, researchers designed biological cells that change colour when acetylcholine latches onto this particular class of receptors, called M1.
That allowed them to see when M1 receptors received the chemical message, an event neuroscientists had previously been unable to detect in a living, intact brain.
"It``s a world of signalling between cells that we were blind to before," Nature magazine quoted David Kleinfeld, professor of physics and member of UC San Diego``s center for neural circuits and behaviour, who led the collaboration that invented the system, as saying.
The team implanted the cells, which they call CNiFERs (pronounced "sniffers"), in rat brains, then stimulated a deeper part of the brain in a way known to release acetylcholine nearby.
They saw a colour change, evidence that the CNiFERs were working. Then they gave the rats one of two atypical neuroleptics. In both cases, the drug severely depressed the response, indicating that the drugs`` receptor-blocking action overrides the increase in acetylcholine.
The findings are reported online in Nature Neuroscience.