Newly published research has identified the biological changes that cause the negative symptoms and psychosis that people with schizophrenia experience.
This discovery has significant implications for schizophrenia treatments, which to date have not been able to target these debilitating side effects.
Current schizophrenia treatments only address psychotic symptoms some of the time, and do not restore people to their full potential. As a result, approximately 80 per cent of people with schizophrenia are left unemployed and many alone.
But the newly published study by Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) may help to change this, as it uncovers precisely where problematic biological changes are occurring.
Researchers found that abnormal activity, involving immune cells, is taking place in the dopamine-producing region of the brain.
These immune cells, which normally help the brain’s immune response, actually appear to be damaging the dopamine-producing region of the brain in people with schizophrenia.
Neurons in this area become overactive as a result, which helps explain the hallucinations and delusions that people with schizophrenia experience.
The new discovery indicates that rogue immune cells could be to blame for the most disturbing schizophrenia symptoms.
“We have shown for the first time that immune cells called macrophages are increased in the midbrain of people with schizophrenia, and they appear to be interfering with normal brain function,” said Professor Shannon Weickert, leader of the study at NeuRA.
“This research suggests treatments that modulate or change neuroinflammation in the dopamine region of the brain may improve some of the disordered thinking and behaviour experienced in people with schizophrenia,” said Dr Purves-Tyson, a senior researcher involved in the study at NeuRA.
Next, researchers will examine how these immune cells are damaging neurons, with the aim of finding treatments that can prevent the cells from damaging or entering the brain in the first place.
This research highlights the value of new types of clinical trials that aim to curb the disabling symptoms people with schizophrenia experience and improve the lives of people with disorder substantially.