A new research study from Michigan State University using brain imaging of people with schizophrenia as well as their healthy siblings could help provide clues about this mental disorder. Schizophrenia is a disease which can be both devastating and debilitating, and the study examined two distinct neurotransmitters in the brain using a non invasive technique called magnetic resonance spectroscopy. The study looked at the neurotransmitters glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acidergic. Each of these neurotransmitters is responsible for a specific function in the brain. Gamma-aminobutyric acidergic, referred to as GABA, is responsible for inhibiting neural firing in the brain while glutamate actually promotes brain cell firing.
Drugs used to treat schizophrenia right now mainly rely on dopamine regulation, and dopamine is another neurotransmitter in the brain. These drugs do not always work well though, and the brain imaging study could provide other treatment methods and medications which may be more effective. No medications available right now for schizophrenia target either GABA or glutamate, but this could change. Advances in medications for schizophrenia have been very limited in the last 5 decades. Using brain imaging to study both the brain of the schizophrenic patient and their healthy siblings could provide more clues about how this mental disorder works and the role that each specific neurotransmitter plays in the development and progression of schizophrenia.
Dr. Katharine Thakkar, a Michigan State University assistant professor of clinical psychology and the lead investigator for the study, explained that “This finding is what’s most exciting about our study. It hints at what kinds of things have to go wrong for someone to express this vulnerability toward schizophrenia. The study gives us more specific clues into what kinds of systems we want to tackle when we’re developing new treatments for this very devastating illness. There are likely different causes of the different symptoms and possibly different mechanisms of the illness across individuals. In the future, as this imaging technique becomes more refined, it could conceivably be used to guide individual treatment recommendations. That is, this technique might indicate that one individual would benefit more from treatment A and another individual would benefit more from treatment B, when these different treatments have different mechanisms of action.”