Scientists find a marker for schizophrenia in human hair
Not only will this help diagnose schizophrenia earlier, but it also points to a possible cause of schizophrenia.
- Schizophrenia can be difficult to diagnose early, which is why it's important to identify physical markers that appear in schizophrenics but not the healthy population.
- To determine this, researchers examined mice with schizophrenia-like symptoms and compared them to a healthy group. They found that the mice with schizophrenia-like symptoms had elevated levels of MPST, an enzyme that produces hydrogen sulfide.
- Not only does this provide a biomarker for schizophrenia, but it also suggests that schizophrenia may come about due to what the researchers called "sulfide stress."
Schizophrenia is a multifaceted disease, and its signs and symptoms are multifaceted as well. Like all behavioral diseases, it can be difficult to detect, especially early on. But recent research published in EMBO Molecular Medicine found a potentially game-changing means of detecting schizophrenia through hair samples.
The researchers began by investigating another diagnostic test for schizophrenia. Healthy mammals tend to exhibit something called the prepulse inhibition response, or PPI. Everybody tends to jump when they've been startled by, say, a loud noise, but if that noise is preceded by another, quieter noise (the prepulse), they'll be less startled by the second sound. That's the PPI response. Schizophrenics, however, tend to have a lower PPI response: they react just as suddenly to a loud noise as they do to one that's been "previewed" by a quieter sound.
The researchers wanted to study the different physical markers between heathy individuals and schizophrenics, so they studied the proteins found in a strain of mice that frequently exhibited symptoms of schizophrenia, including a lowered PPI. What they discovered was that mice with low PPI tended to have higher levels of an enzyme called MPST. This enzyme produces hydrogen sulfide, also highly present throughout the mice.
"Nobody has ever thought about a causal link between hydrogen sulfide and schizophrenia," said research lead Takeo Toshikawa. To ensure that the hydrogen sulfide was responsible for these behavioral changes, Toshikawa and colleagues knocked out the gene for MPST in the mice. Without this gene, mice exhibited significantly higher PPI than mice who still had the gene for MPST, who still had hydrogen sulfide circulating throughout their bodies as a result. "Once we discovered this, we had to figure out how it happens and if these findings in mice would hold true for people with schizophrenia," said Toshikawa.
Schizophrenia - causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment & pathology
The research team then moved onto examining the brains of deceased schizophrenics and healthy individuals. All of the schizophrenic brains had more MPST present in their cells, and, intriguingly, higher levels of MPST were associated with worse schizophrenic symptoms. What's more, when the researchers tested the hair follicles of living subjects with schizophrenia, they found that the presence of elevated MPST was a fairly reliable marker for schizophrenia. However, this was not true for every individual with schizophrenia, indicating that whatever role MPST and hydrogen sulfide plays in schizophrenia, it wasn't the only route to the disease.
Finding out the nature of that role was the researchers' next task. The research team knew that hydrogen sulfide helped reduce oxidative stress and neuroinflammation in the body. Prior research had also uncovered a correlation between inflammatory events that occurred before and just after birth and schizophrenia. Furthermore, high levels of hydrogen sulfide circulating through the body were related to a greater risk for ulcerative colitis and a lower risk for rheumatoid arthritis — schizophrenics are both more likely to have ulcerative colitis and less likely to have rheumatoid arthritis as well.
Taken together, these previous findings all seemed to point towards hydrogen sulfide possibly playing a part schizophrenia's cause. To test this, the researchers turned once again to mice. They injected pregnant mice with polyinosinic:polycytidylic acid (poly-I:C), a compound that mimics viral infections and stimulates the immune system. When the pregnant mice gave birth and those offspring grew to adulthood, their brains featured significantly higher expression of genes associated with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory production, including hydrogen sulfide.
This led the researchers to conclude that early inflammatory events cause changes in the genome such that the body produces higher levels of hydrogen sulfide. They argued that this elevation in hydrogen sulfide causes what they term "sulfide stress," which may contribute to the neurology of schizophrenics.
More research will be needed to confirm or deny this theory, but it does help fill in some of the gaps of our understanding of schizophrenia. In recent years, more and more evidence has been accumulating to suggest that neuroinflammation during a child's development contributes to or even causes schizophrenia. Knowing for certain whether that's the case is still a long way off, but if it is true, then sulfide stress may very well play a role.
- Art school and schizophrenia are linked in large new study - Big Think ›
- Schizophrenia's surprising link to the gut - Big Think ›
Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live this Thursday at 1pm ET.
Scientists discover the inner workings of an effect that will lead to a new generation of devices.
- Researchers discover a method of extracting previously unavailable information from superconductors.
- The study builds on a 19th-century discovery by physicist Edward Hall.
- The research promises to lead to a new generation of semiconductor materials and devices.
Credit: Gunawan/Nature magazine
Students who think the world is just cheat less, but they need to experience justice to feel that way.
- Students in German and Turkish universities who believed the world is just cheated less than their pessimistic peers.
- The tendency to think the world is just is related to the occurence of experiences of justice.
- The findings may prove useful in helping students adjust to college life.
The world is just? That’s news to a lot of people.<p>The study is the most recent addition to a long line of work focusing on the belief in justice, our behavior, and our reactions to evidence that might suggest injustice occasionally occurs. This study focuses on a personal belief in a just world, (PBJW) rather than a general belief in a just world (GBJW). The difference between them must be highlighted.</p><p>GBJW is the stance that justice prevails all over the world and that people tend to get what they deserve. PBJW is more focused on the individual's social environment and their belief that they tend to be treated justly. While several studies show PBJW correlates with a higher sense of well-being and a variety of other positive effects, a high GBJW is associated with less life satisfaction, negative behavior, and callousness towards the suffering of <a href="https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-1-4939-3216-0" target="_blank">others</a>. This study controlled for GBJW, and focused on PBJW as much as possible. </p><p>To assure that culture was not a factor, the study included students at universities in both Germany and Turkey. </p><p>The researchers gave students at the four participating universities a series of questionnaires that asked if they ever cheated in class, if they perceived the world to be just, if they though that justice always prevailed everywhere, their tendencies towards socially appropriate behavior, their life satisfaction, and if they felt like they were treated justly by their teachers and fellow students. </p><p>The answers were statistically analyzed for relationships. While some of the connections seem trivially true, others were surprising. <strong></strong></p><p>PBJW turned out to only be an indirect predictor of if a student was likely to cheat. Both a belief in a just world and a lower likelihood of cheating were mediated by the justice experiences of the students, with more of these positive experiences lowering the rate of cheating and improving their belief in justice. This was also associated with higher levels of life satisfaction. </p><p>These effects existed across all demographics in both countries. </p>
What does this mean? Is a belief in justice a self-fulfilling prophecy?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/6oMv-azHNCA" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p>In a way, it seems to be. People who have reason to think the world is just to them tend to interpret events in a way to sustain that belief and behave in a just manner. In a larger sense, the take away from this study is that experiences of justice, both from peers and instructors, is vital to student's wellbeing and understanding that the rules that exist about cheating are part of a larger, legitimate, system. </p><p>The researchers, citing previous studies on the perception of justice, note that "justice experiences (1) signal that university students are esteemed members of their social group, which in turn conveys feelings of belonging and social inclusion and (2) motivate them to accept and observe university rules and norms. These cognitive processes may thus strengthen their well-being and decrease the likelihood that they cheat."</p><p>The authors also suggest that if you want people (not only students) to act justly; consider treating them with "civility, respect, and dignity."</p><p>Sometimes, all it can take to help somebody act virtuously is to treat them well. Likewise, people treated harshly can rarely find reason to play by rules that don't protect them. The findings of this study will certainly add to the literature on how we perceive justice in the world around us, but might also help us remember that there are real consequences to our actions which can be much larger than we imagine. <strong></strong></p>
This could change how researchers approach vaccine development.
- The reason children suffer less from the novel coronavirus has remained mysterious.
- Researchers identified a cytokine, IL-17A, which appears to protect children from the ravages of COVID-19.
- This cytokine response could change how researchers approach vaccine development.
A member of staff wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) takes a child's temperature at the Harris Academy's Shortland's school on June 04, 2020 in London, England.
Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images<p>Experts don't want to place kids at the back of the line, regardless of how strong their immune systems appear. At least one company, Moderna, <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-vaccine-for-kids-moderna-plans-pediatric-trial-2020-9" target="_blank">hopes to begin testing</a> vaccines in pediatric volunteers by year's end.</p><p>Innate immune response is especially high during childhood (compared to adaptive immunity). This makes evolutionary sense: nature wants an animal to survive until its ready to procreate. Turns out the children in the study possessed high levels of cytokines that boost their immune response. The biggest impact is made by IL-17A, which appears to protect the youngest cohort from the ravages of the coronavirus. </p><p>While both age groups produced antibodies to fight off the infamous spike protein, adults that produce neutralizing antibodies actually suffer a <em>worse</em> fate. Herold says this "over-vigorous adaptive immune response" might promote inflammation, triggering acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). </p><p>This matters for vaccine development. As Herold says, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Our adult COVID-19 patients who fared poorly had high levels of neutralizing antibodies, suggesting that convalescent plasma—which is rich in neutralizing antibodies—may not help adults who have already developed signs of ARDS. By contrast, therapies that boost innate immune responses early in the course of the disease may be especially beneficial."</p><p>Herold says current vaccine trials are focused on boosting neutralizing-antibody levels. With this new information, researchers may want to work on vaccines that boost the innate immune response instead. </p><p>With <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/science/coronavirus-vaccine-tracker.html" target="_blank">at least 55 vaccine trials</a> underway, every piece of data matters. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Researchers from the University of Toronto published a new map of cancer cells' genetic defenses against treatment.