Scientists say they have found a biomarker for schizophrenia that can be detected in human hair.
In one study, researchers showed that hydrogen sulfide – a gas and signaling molecule – was present in the brains of humans and mice with symptoms of mental disorder and that it acts as a biomarker of the disease.
Schizophrenia is characterized by symptoms, including hallucinations, such as hearing voices, delusions and disorganized thoughts, as well as the lack of the full range of emotions of an ordinary person.
About 1 percent of the global population suffers from this condition, which usually occurs between late adolescence and the early thirties of a person’s life.
Currently, a person will likely be diagnosed with the condition after being evaluated by a mental health specialist. Both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the development of this type of disease.
Faster detection after less conventional signs
Japanese researchers have studied mice with what are known as high or low prepulse inhibitions.
That is, for example, an individual is less frightened by a noise when he first receives a warning signal. However, in the case of people with schizophrenia, they may have less inhibition of the foreskin, so they are surprised despite the initial warning.
In this regard, the team found that mice with lower inhibitions of the prepulse produced more of a certain enzyme that helps produce hydrogen sulfide and had higher levels of gas itself.
By reducing the amount of enzymes created by mice, the scientists were able to improve the inhibition of the prepulse. In other words, some of the symptoms associated with schizophrenia can be controlled or even induced in regression by reducing the presence of the enzyme that controls the production of hydrogen sulfide.
To see if they could make such findings in humans, the researchers analyzed the brains – post mortem – of people with schizophrenia and found that the expression of the special enzyme was higher in those with more severe symptoms compared to those who they did not suffer from this condition.
The secret is… on the head
The researchers studied hair follicles in more than 149 people with schizophrenia and compared them to 166 individuals without the condition. Again, hydrogen sulfide-producing enzyme levels were higher in some of those with mental disorders.
The team believes that high levels could lead to changes in DNA during development, which persists into adulthood.
Co-author of the study Takeo Yoshikawa of the Molecular Psychiatry Laboratory at Japan’s RIKEN Center for Brain Science said the drugs currently used to treat the condition were discovered more than half a century ago, but for about 30% of patients, they do not work.
“Despite these conditions, pharmaceutical companies have abandoned the development of new drugs,” he said.
“Our study is expected to provide a new paradigm for drug development. It is hoped that inhibitors of the enzymes that produce and synthesize hydrogen sulfide will be beneficial for the treatment of schizophrenia, at least for those patients who are not improving after treatment with current drugs, “explained Yoshikawa.