Gene Could Hold Key to Schizophrenia

Mice without it developed a schizophrenic-like illness, researchers say

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FRIDAY, Jan. 20, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Deleting a single gene in the brains of mice caused their memories to be affected in way that resembled schizophrenia in humans, U.S. scientists report.

Before the gene was removed, the mice were trained to use external clues to look for chocolate treats buried in sand. But after being injected with a genetically engineered virus that deleted the NR1 gene, the mice were unable to learn a similar task.

The study, by a team from UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, appears in the current issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

The NR1 gene codes for a part of a protein involved in passing signals between nerve cells used in learning and memory. When drugs are used to block a similar protein in humans, it results in a psychotic state similar to schizophrenia.

"We think that both our genetic rodent model, as well as a new learning and memory test we developed, may provide valuable tools in the investigation of schizophrenia," study senior author Dr. Robert Greene, a professor of psychiatry, said in a prepared statement.

This study focused on the hippocampus area of the brain. Greene and his colleagues will conduct further research in mice to investigate if similar small changes to nearby brain regions involved in learning and memory result in the same kinds of cognitive problems.

"In addition, we want to use a similar task in humans to that used in this study to see if patients with schizophrenia have similar deficits in cognition as we observed in our experimental mice. This will help determine whether our genetically altered animals provide a good model of the psychosis associated with schizophrenia," Greene said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about schizophrenia.

SOURCE: UT Southwestern, news release, Jan. 17, 2006

Robert Preidt

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