Irish scientists have discovered that abnormalities in the blood vessels of the brain may have a key role to play in the development of schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is a serious mental health condition characterised by disturbances in a person's thoughts, perceptions, emotions and behaviour. Symptoms can include delusions, hallucinations, behaviour change, social withdrawal and problems sleeping.
The condition affects around 1% of people in Ireland.
It is already known that a network of blood vessels in the brain regulates the transport of energy and materials into and out of the brain - this is known as the blood-brain barrier (BBB).
Now, scientists from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) have discovered that abnormalities in the integrity of the BBB may have a major role to play in the development of schizophrenia and other brain disorders.
"Our recent findings have, for the first time, suggested that schizophrenia is a brain disorder associated with abnormalities of brain blood vessels. The concept of tailoring drugs to regulate and treat abnormal brain blood vessels is a novel treatment strategy and offers great potential to complement existing treatments of this debilitating disease," commented Dr Matthew Campbell, assistant professor in neurovascular genetics at TCD.
He said that while it is already well accepted that improving cardiovascular health can reduce the risk of stroke and heart attacks, ‘we now believe that drugs aimed at improving cerebrovascular health may be an additional strategy to treating brain diseases in the future'.
The Irish team worked with an international group of scientists from Cardiff University, Stanford University and Duke University, and also screened post-mortem brain samples form the Stanley Medical Research Institute in the US.
"We have shown for the first time that dysfunction of the BBB may be an important factor in the development of schizophrenia. These findings greatly add to our understanding of this debilitating and socially isolating condition," commented consultant psychiatrist and head of the department of psychiatry at the RCSI, Prof Kieran Murphy.
Details of these findings are published in the journal, Molecular Psychiatry.