This processor, called DARPP-32, helps regulate key neurotransmitters in an area of the brain linked to schizophrenia. The finding that people with schizophrenia have reduced levels of DARPP-32 may help lead to ways to reverse brain dysfunctions associated with schizophrenia.
"DARPP-32 is a key regulatory protein, involved in controlling receptors, ion channels and other neurotransmitters that are implicated in the development of schizophrenia," says study co-author Dr. Paul Greengard, a professor of neuroscience at Rockefeller University.
"A reduction of DARPP-32 required for functions in the brain could contribute to the cognitive dysfunction seen in the disease," he says.
Greengard and colleagues from Weill Cornell Medical College and the University of California at Irvine (UCI) studied the brains of 14 dead people who had schizophrenia when they were alive. In these people, the researchers found significantly reduced levels of DARPP-32 in an area of the brain called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.
The brains of people who didn't have schizophrenia had normal levels of DARPP-32.
"This is the first study to show reduced levels of this important regulatory molecule in schizophrenia. If DARPP-32 plays such a key role in controlling physiological activity in this part of the brain, perhaps there could be methods we could use to eventually maintain normal levels of the molecule," says study co-author Dr. William Bunney, a UCI psychiatry professor.
The National Institute of Mental Health has more on schizophrenia.