New treatment for schizophrenia discovered

July 1, 2013
Change in symptoms (PANSS score) during the study. Credit: J. Ekelund / University of Helsinki

A research group led by professor Jesper Ekelund showed that by giving a very large dose of famotidine (200 mg daily), sufficient amounts of the drug are able to penetrate the so-called blood-brain barrier to affect the histamine system in the brain.

Famotidine has been used for the treatment of since the 1980s, but at regular dosing, famotidine almost does not enter the brain at all, since the brain is protected by the blood-brain barrier. By increasing the dosage five-fold the drug is able to enter the brain and affect the histamine system.

"Already after one week the symptoms of persons suffering from started to decrease and after four weeks of treatment the symptoms had decreased statistically significantly. The patients that participated in the study were also positively disposed towards the treatment," says Ekelund.

Thirty persons suffering from schizophrenia participated in the study. The patients had been on sickness pension for at least five years and were randomly divided into two groups, one which received famotidine and one which received placebo. All of the patients who took famotidine responded positively to the treatment while the symptoms of those who were on a placebo did not change.

Schizophrenia is the most common and severe , and is the cause of at least half of all treatment days. No randomized, controlled trials in humans that test the effect of H2 in schizophrenia have been published so far.

Innovation in psychiatric medication urgently needed

Since 1963, when the subsequent Nobel prize winner Arvid Carlsson showed that dopamine has a central role in psychosis, the so called - has been central in psychosis. All presently available medications for psychosis are based around this principle. Since is all too often incomplete and side effects common, there is still a great, unmet medical need for medications with other mechanisms of action. Many other signaling substances have been the focus of attention, but so far, the brain histamine system has most widely been regarded as important only with regard to side effects of many psychosis medications.

"Famotidine shouldn't be used directly as treatment for schizophrenia until long-term use of a dose of this size has been proved safe. However, our study shows that the histamine system in the brain offers a novel approach to treating psychosis. This should lead to increased efforts by the pharmaceutical industry to develop medications based on this histamine-based mechanism," says Ekelund.

Famotidine works by blocking the histamine H2 receptor. There are important neurons in the brain that use histamine as their primary signaling substance. These neurons have an important role as regulators of other signaling substances. From animal research, it is known that by affecting the histamine system, one can also affect other signaling substances that are known to be involved in schizophrenia.

The project has already received international recognition. Katarina Meskanen, one of the members of Ekelunds research group, was awarded the Young Scientist Award of the SCNP (Scandinavian College of Neuropsychopharmacology) and the project has been awarded substantial funding (306,000 USD) from the Stanley foundation for follow-up studies.

The research group will replicate the finding through a larger, multinational study in collaboration with Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, where the study is coordinated by professor Jari Tiihonen.

Explore further: Narcolepsy study finds surprising increase in neurons that produce histamine

More information: Meskanen, K. et al. A Randomized Clinical Trial of Histamine 2 Receptor Antagonism in Treatment-Resistant Schizophrenia, Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology , Volume 33, Number 4, August 2013 (online June 2013).

Related Stories

Narcolepsy study finds surprising increase in neurons that produce histamine

June 3, 2013
A new study provides surprising evidence that people with narcolepsy have an increased number of neurons that produce histamine, suggesting that histamine signaling may be a novel therapeutic target for this potentially disabling ...

Zebrafish reveals central regulator for development of brain histamine system

February 5, 2013
Research has shown that mutations in the psen1 gene are common in the familial forms of Alzheimer's disease, and the Presenilin-1 protein that the gene encodes is known to be involved in the cleavage of the amyloid precursor ...

Long-term ADHD treatment increases brain dopamine transporter levels, may affect drug efficacy

May 15, 2013
Long-term treatment of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) with certain stimulant medications may alter the density of the dopamine transporter, according to research published May 15 in the open access journal ...

High levels of glutamate in brain may kick-start schizophrenia

April 18, 2013
An excess of the brain neurotransmitter glutamate may cause a transition to psychosis in people who are at risk for schizophrenia, reports a study from investigators at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) published ...

Psychiatric medication effects on brain structure

May 8, 2012
It is increasingly recognized that chronic psychotropic drug treatment may lead to structural remodeling of the brain. Indeed, clinical studies in humans present an intriguing picture: antipsychotics, used for the treatment ...

Scientists unpack testosterone's role in schizophrenia

April 26, 2013
Testosterone may trigger a brain chemical process linked to schizophrenia but the same sex hormone can also improve cognitive thinking skills in men with the disorder, two new studies show.

Recommended for you

Visual clues we use during walking and when we use them

July 25, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A trio of researchers with the University of Texas and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has discovered which phase of visual information processing during human walking is used most to guide the feet accurately. ...

Psychopaths are better at learning to lie, say researchers

July 25, 2017
Individuals with high levels of psychopathic traits are better at learning to lie than individuals who show few psychopathic traits, according to a study published in the open access journal Translational Psychiatry. The ...

Toddlers begin learning rules of reading, writing at very early age, study finds

July 25, 2017
Even the proudest of parents may struggle to find some semblance of meaning behind the seemingly random mish-mash of letters that often emerge from a toddler's first scribbled and scrawled attempts at putting words on paper.

Higher cognitive abilities linked to greater risk of stereotyping

July 24, 2017
People with higher cognitive abilities are more likely to learn and apply social stereotypes, finds a new study. The results, stemming from a series of experiments, show that those with higher cognitive abilities also more ...

Exposure to violence hinders short-term memory, cognitive control

July 24, 2017
Being exposed to and actively remembering violent episodes—even those that happened up to a decade before—hinders short-term memory and cognitive control, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National ...

Researchers pave new path toward preventing obesity

July 24, 2017
People who experience unpredictable childhoods due to issues such as divorce, crime or frequent moves face a higher risk of becoming obese as adults, according to a new study by a Florida State University researcher.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.