Immune clue to preventing schizophrenia
It may be possible to prevent schizophrenia by calming the brain's immune system, say scientists. Brain scans found an overactive immune system in patients as well as in those at high risk of schizophrenia. The UK Medical Research Council team wants to test anti-inflammatory drugs to treat or even prevent the disease.
Other experts in the field said the study, in the American Journal of Psychiatry, was "important" and furthered understanding of the illness. There has been mounting evidence that the immune system and inflammation play a key role in schizophrenia and other psychiatric conditions. The researchers analysed microglia, which are like the brain's own gardeners weeding out infection but also "pruning" unwanted connections between brain cells.
A chemical dye which sticks to microglia was injected into 56 people to record their microglia activity. The highest level was found in patients with the condition, but those deemed at high risk of developing schizophrenia also showed heightened activity levels. Dr Oliver Howes, the head of the psychiatric imaging group at the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre, told the BBC News website: "This is a real step forward in understanding.
"For the first time we have evidence that there is over-activity even before full onset of the illness. "If we could reduce activity [before full-blown illness] then we might be able to prevent the illness - that needs to be tested, but is one key implication [of the research]."