There’s hope on the horizon for treating schizophrenia, as researchers have been able to reverse schizophrenia-like symptoms in mice by altering the behavior of a gene called Neuregulin-1 (NRG-1 for short), normalizing its expression. They warn, however, that because it’s a “spectrum disorder”, there are a sufficiently large number of causes to make this treatment useful only to those for whom this genetic expression is the root cause.
Like patients with schizophrenia, adult mice biogenetically-engineered to have higher NRG1 levels showed reduced activity of the brain messenger chemicals glutamate and γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA). The mice also showed behaviors related to aspects of the human illness.
“They genetically engineered mice so they could turn up levels of NRG1 to mimic high levels found in some patients then return levels to normal,” explained senior author Dr Lin Mei from the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University.
“They found that when elevated, mice were hyperactive, couldn’t remember what they had just learned and couldn’t ignore distracting background or white noise. When they returned NRG1 levels to normal in adult mice, the schizophrenia-like symptoms went away.”
It’s comforting to see how long a way we’ve come, from viewing an affliction that was once thought to be caused by demonic possession and cured by prayer, chanting, and exorcism to a medical and psychological condition that has a potential cure in sight … even if only for a fraction of those affected.
I think about advances like these when someone asks me if I “actually” believe that “everything can be explained by science”, implying that I leave no room for spirituality or a belief in the divine. Why should I? Everything we observe – if not currently explainable by the physics we have – will be explained through the innovation of future scientists by the tools we develop with data from new observations as our guide. These models won’t be perfect, but will provide approximations to reality that will be constantly refined as additional information is available.
As the centuries pass, we’ve realized that those things that were originally attributed to the capricious whims of the God or the Fates are actually the results of natural processes that can be observes, measured, modeled, and predicted with sufficient understanding. So, as an atheist, I’m not necessarily going to say that there’s no God … but he’s slowly running out of places to hide.
OK, enough of the soapbox. The abstract is available here, and the published paper is in Issue 4, Volume 78 of the journal Neuron.