Study uncovers possible roots of schizophrenia

August 16, 2017, University of California, Irvine
Amal Alachkar. Credit: UCI

An abundance of an amino acid called methionine, which is common in meat, cheese and beans, may provide new clues to the fetal brain development that can manifest in schizophrenia, University of California, Irvine pharmacology researchers report in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

The findings point to the role overload can play during pregnancy and suggest that targeting the effects of this amino acid may lead to new antipsychotic drugs.

The UCI study also provides detailed information on the neural developmental mechanisms of the methionine effect, which results in changes in the expression of several genes important to healthy brain growth and, in particular, to one linked to schizophrenia in humans.

Amal Alachkar and colleagues based their approach on studies from the 1960s and 1970s in which schizophrenic patients injected with methionine experienced worsened symptoms. Knowing that schizophrenia is a developmental disorder, the UCI team hypothesized that administering three times the normal daily input of methionine to pregnant mice may produce pups that have also schizophrenia-like deficits, which is what occurred.

The pups of the injected mothers displayed deficits in nine different tests encompassing the three schizophrenia-like symptoms behaviors - "positive" symptoms of overactivity and stereotypy, "negative" symptoms of human interaction deficits, and "cognitive impairments" memory loss.

The research team treated the mice with anti-schizophrenic drugs well used in therapy. A drug that in schizophrenics treats mostly the positive symptoms (haloperidol) did the same in the mice, and a drug that treat preferentially the negative symptoms and the cognitive impairments (clozapine) did the same.

Alachkar, an associate adjunct professor of pharmacology, said that the study is the first to present a based on methionine-influenced neural development that leads to schizophrenic-like behaviors.

"This mouse model provides much broader detail of biological processes of schizophrenia and thus reflect much better the disorder than in the animal models presently widely used in discovery," said Olivier Civelli, chair and professor of pharmacology and an author on the paper.

"Our study also agrees with the saying, 'we are what our mothers ate'," Alachkar added. "Methionine is one of the building blocks of proteins. It is not synthesized by our bodies, and it needs to be ingested. Our study points at the very important role of excess dietary methionine during pregnancy in fetal development, which might have a long-lasting influence on the offspring. This is a very exciting area of research that we hope can be explored in greater depth."

Explore further: Diet rich in methionine may promote memory loss

More information: A Alachkar et al, Prenatal one-carbon metabolism dysregulation programs schizophrenia-like deficits, Molecular Psychiatry (2017). DOI: 10.1038/mp.2017.164

Related Stories

Diet rich in methionine may promote memory loss

March 31, 2015
Memory loss has recently been associated with excessive silencing of genes through a process called methylation. Researchers at the University of Louisville investigated the effects of a diet rich in methionine—an amino ...

High rates of smoking among schizophrenia patients attributed to nicotine's ameliorative effect

December 6, 2016
The smoking rate among individuals with schizophrenia has been shown to be as high as 90 percent, compared to between 20 and 23 percent of the general population, or 50 percent among individuals with other mental disorders.

Study suggests valproate may be effective in patients with variant of COMT gene

September 14, 2016
A drug prescribed to many patients with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder may decrease negative symptoms for people with a certain variant of the COMT gene, suggests a new study from researchers at Columbia University Medical ...

Recommended for you

Color of judo uniform has no effect on winning

February 22, 2018
New research on competitive judo data finds a winning bias for the athlete who is first called, regardless of the colour of their uniform. This unique study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, puts to rest the debate on ...

Antidepressants are more effective than placebo at treating acute depression in adults, concludes study

February 22, 2018
Meta-analysis of 522 trials includes the largest amount of unpublished data to date, and finds that antidepressants are more effective than placebo for short-term treatment of acute depression in adults.

Smartphones are bad for some teens, not all

February 21, 2018
Is the next generation better or worse off because of smartphones? The answer is complex and research shows it largely depends on their lives offline.

Self-compassion may protect people from the harmful effects of perfectionism

February 21, 2018
Relating to oneself in a healthy way can help weaken the association between perfectionism and depression, according to a study published February 21, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Madeleine Ferrari from Australian ...

Researchers uncover novel mechanism behind schizophrenia

February 21, 2018
An international team of researchers led by a Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine scientist has uncovered a novel mechanism in which a protein—neuregulin 3—controls how key neurotransmitters are released ...

How people cope with difficult life events fuels development of wisdom, study finds

February 21, 2018
How a person responds to a difficult life event such as a death or divorce helps shape the development of their wisdom over time, a new study from Oregon State University suggests.

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.