Scientists Examine Psychiatric Disorders Linked With Epilepsy

Researchers from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, have conducted the first study of its kind to examine in detail, the basis of psychiatric disorders which occur in people with epilepsy. The findings of this study showed similarities with the brain cell patterns in people with schizophrenia. The research gives greater insights into both conditions which may potentially lead to new treatments in the future.

Epilepsy is associated with high rates of psychiatric disorder and one form of epilepsy, known as temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE), in particular, shows increased rates of psychosis. Until now, little was known about the underlying biological mechanisms behind this type of psychiatric disorder.

The study which used advanced neuroimaging techniques, found that a lower density of cells (grey and white matter) was widespread across many regions of the brain in people who had both TLE and psychosis. This pattern of a low density of cells in parts of the brain was similar to those observed in schizophrenia.

These brain differences are potentially relevant to both psychiatric disorders in temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) and to schizophrenia in the general population.

Dr Frederick Sundram, Senior Registrar and Honorary Lecturer in Psychiatry at RCSI commented: “This research gives new insights into the overlap between physical and psychiatric disorders such as epilepsy and schizophrenia respectively. In future, this may inform on potential treatments for psychiatric disorders associated with temporal lobe epilepsy as well as schizophrenia which affects over 10,000 people in Ireland. Our findings show that there is a low density of cells in TLE related psychosis which resembles schizophrenia. Patients with these conditions may benefit in future from treatments that target these abnormal brain regions.”……..

Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) (2011, May 1). Scientists examine psychiatric disorders linked with epilepsy. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 21, 2011, from

New View of Human Nerve Cells Opens Door to Potential Drug Targets

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute and University of Pennsylvania have found a way to uncover potential drug targets that have so far remained hidden from researchers’ view.

By applying the new method to a type of nerve cell critical to regulating body temperature, the authors found more than 400 “receptors” (structures that bind other molecules, triggering some effect on the cell) responding to neurotransmitters, hormones, and other chemical signals. This represents 20 to 30 times more receptors than previous studies had identified.

The technique, described in detail in a review article in the March 11, 2011 issue of the journal Pharmacology and Therapeutics, may be applied to finding “hidden” receptors in other types of nerve cells, expanding the repertoire of potential drug targets for diseases ranging from schizophrenia to Parkinson’s disease.

“This technique will enable people to uncover many more drug targets,” said Tamas Bartfai, chair of the Department of Molecular and Integrative Neuroscience at Scripps Research. “That may be a game changer for some diseases.”……

The Scripps Research Institute (2011, March 11). New view of human nerve cells opens door to potential drug targets. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 21, 2011, from


NIMH Director, Thomas Insel, discusses recent papers which make use of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, a new tool that may make it possible to study the molecular and cellular workings of neurodevelopment, even in an adult with a brain disorder. For neurodevelopmental disorders, iPS cells could be a transformative technology that allows researchers to study how and when brain development goes off track.

NIMH Outreach Partnership Program Update for May 15, 2011

The Outreach Partnership Program is a nationwide outreach initiative of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) that enlists state and national organizations in a partnership to help close the gap between mental health research and clinical practice, inform the public about mental illnesses, and reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness. For more information about the program please visit: To subscribe to receive the Update every two weeks, go to:


Scientists Afflict Computers With ‘Schizophrenia’ to Better Understand the Human Brain

Computer networks that can’t forget fast enough can show symptoms of a kind of virtual schizophrenia, giving researchers further clues to the inner workings of schizophrenic brains, researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and Yale University have found.

The researchers used a virtual computer model, or “neural network,” to simulate the excessive release of dopamine in the brain. They found that the network recalled memories in a distinctly schizophrenic-like fashion.

Their results were published in April in Biological Psychiatry.

“The hypothesis is that dopamine encodes the importance-the salience-of experience,” says Uli Grasemann, a graduate student in the Department of Computer Science at The University of Texas at Austin. “When there’s too much dopamine, it leads to exaggerated salience, and the brain ends up learning from things that it shouldn’t be learning from.”

The results bolster a hypothesis known in schizophrenia circles as the hyperlearning hypothesis, which posits that people suffering from schizophrenia have brains that lose the ability to forget or ignore as much as they normally would. Without forgetting, they lose the ability to extract what’s meaningful out of the immensity of stimuli the brain encounters. They start making connections that aren’t real, or drowning in a sea of so many connections they lose the ability to stitch together any kind of coherent story…..

University of Texas at Austin (2011, May 6). Scientists afflict computers with ‘schizophrenia’ to better understand the human brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 14, 2011, from

Brain Development Switch Could Affect Schizophrenia, Other Conditions

An international team of scientists lead by researchers from Duke University and Johns Hopkins University have discovered a key “switch” in the brain that allows neurons to stop dividing so that these cells can migrate toward their final destinations in the brain.

The finding may be relevant to making early identification of people who go on to develop schizophrenia and other brain disorders.

“This work sheds light on what has been a big black box in neuroscience,” said Nicholas Katsanis, Ph.D., co-senior author of the work and Jean and George Brumley Jr., MD, Professor of Developmental Biology, Professor of Pediatrics and Cell Biology. “It helps answer the question of what happens when neurons stop dividing and start moving along to populate the brain.”

The study was published by Nature journal on April 6 in its advance online publication.
Katsanis predicts that, for perhaps 10 percent of psychiatric illness, the illness is primarily driven by defects in this switch system. “So we now have ways to interpret variation in humans, in a context that is relevant to their particular cases, to their physiology — that is where medicine will move next,” Katsanis said.

Katsanis, who directs the Duke Center for Human Disease Modeling, and Akira Sawa, M.D., Ph.D., a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, were introduced to each other by a clinical colleague who thought that Bardet-Biedl syndrome (BBS) proteins that are involved in transport duties within cells might have a role in schizophrenia. Katsanis is an expert in using BBS genetic mutations and proteins to learn more about other diseases. BBS is a complex genetic disease with autism-like symptoms, cognitive defects and depression. Sawa is an expert on DISC1, the protein named Disrupted in Schizophrenia 1, known to be a major susceptibility factor for schizophrenia and related disorders.

Together, they discovered that these proteins are involved in a key switch for neurons that is necessary for brain development. When DISC1 gains a phosphate group at a specific site, it recruits BBS1. When BBS1 is missing in this system, the team could observe defective neuron migration, while a model with no DISC1 at all leads to defects in both cell proliferation and migration……

Duke University Medical Center (2011, April 7). Brain development switch could affect schizophrenia, other conditions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 14, 2011, from­ /releases/2011/04/110406131803.htm

Patients’ Own Cells Yield New Insights Into the Biology of Schizophrenia

After a century of studying the causes of schizophrenia-the most persistent disabling condition among adults-the cause of the disorder remains unknown. Now induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) generated from schizophrenic patients have brought researchers from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies a step closer to a fundamental understanding of the biological underpinnings of the disease.

In their study, published in the April 13, 2011 advance online issue of the journal Nature, the Salk team reports both that neurons generated from these patient-derived iPSCs made fewer connections with each other, and that Loxapine, an antipsychotic drug commonly used to treat schizophrenia, restored neuronal connectivity in iPSC neurons from all patients……

Salk Institute (2011, April 15). Patients’ own cells yield new insights into the biology of schizophrenia. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 14, 2011, from­ /releases/2011/04/110413132945.htm