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When the brain decides its own dose

spH-cells / Grafik Uniklinikum

Neural networks are illuminated in green under
the microscope. This image shows synaptic
protein which helps the researchers to pinpoint
the illness. (Image: Department of Psychotherapy and
Psychiatry at Erlangen University Hospital)

Researchers prove that the nervous system releases agents effectively during the treatment of Schizophrenia with medication.

Antipsychotic drugs used to treat patients with Schizophrenia are released in high concentration during information transmission between two nerve cells. This was discovered by a team of international researchers led by Dr. Teja Grömer at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) with the help of state-of-the-art optical microscope technology. The results have been published in the internationally acclaimed scientific journal ‘Neuron’.

Schizophrenia is a common psychological illness which frequently affects young people and alters their perception of the world around them. Patients suffer from hallucinations and paranoia, they hear their own thoughts as voices and feel like they are being followed. Currently, the causes for these mental processes have still not been discovered and scientific evidence of such activity has yet to be demonstrated. However, Schizophrenia can be treated efficiently with medication today.

“Up until now, we believed that the dose of antipsychotics effective within a specific time frame and to a specific region of the brain was constant. Now we have demonstrated that the medication is released from the vesicles as soon as the synapses are active. The agent behaves like a neurotransmitter, passing messages from one nerve cell to another,” says Dr. Teja Grömer from the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at Erlangen University Hospital.

Researchers currently believe that medication can be used to control the levels of dopamine in the brain of schizophrenic patients. However, the brain remains permanently active – even independently of schizophrenic episodes. This means that the medication can work more effectively in particularly active regions of the brain.

“The brain releases more agents during periods of intensive nervous activity, however this does not happen during less active periods.” This has the following implication for synaptic research into Schizophrenia: “If a region of the patient’s brain is particularly active, the dose of medication increases which demonstrates that the brain is controlling its own dose in periods of intensive nervous activity.”

This finding also helps to explain why antipsychotic mediation requires a certain amount of time before it takes effect. It can last up to several weeks before the medication is entirely absorbed in the synapses and can take effect. Professor Johannes Kornhuber, Director of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at Erlangen University Hospital was the first to hypothesise that the delayed absorption of antipsychotic medication may be linked to the delayed effect of such treatments. The latest research was based on this theory.

To investigate the functions of nerve cells, Dr. Grömer used state-of-the-art optical microscopes and established a purpose-built neurophotonics laboratory to shed light on the behaviour of nerve cells. The experiment was designed according to Dr. Grömer’s hypothesis that it was not individual cell components such as protein that cause psychiatric illnesses, but rather a ‘dance of molecules’ – an interaction of several reactions which take place within nerve cells. Dr. Grömer and his team used the latest equipment to gain results at a higher resolution, which could not be achieved with existing technology.

The FAU researchers have published their findings in the internationally recognised scientific journal ‘Neuron’. “The findings should help us to develop new medication with more effective characteristics and understand the effects of existing antipsychotic medication,” says Dr. Teja Grömer.

Further information for the press:

Dr. Teja W. Grömer
Tel.: 09131/85-44781
Teja.Groemer@uk-erlangen.de

uni | media service | research No. 25/2012 on 13.6.2012

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