'Stuck' neurons clue to schizophrenia

A discovery that brain cells can become "stuck'' in their journey during brain development could lead to new schizophrenia therapies, the team behind the research says.

New research suggests that brain cells may become 'stuck' in their journey during brain development to the outer 'thinking' layer of the brain and this may help us understand at least one possible cause of schizophrenia.

Professor Cyndi Shannon Weickert and her team from UNSW School of Psychiatry, Neuroscience Research Australia (NeurA) and Schizophrenia Research Institute, have found that in people with schizophrenia, brain cells destined for the cortex - the outer part of the brain associated with thinking and other cognitive abilities - could get trapped in the layer below.

"We think brain cells might be trapped while in the process of migrating to the cortex while the brain develops. This process of neuronal migration to the cortex doesn't stop at birth. It's robust in infants and may continue in teenage years and beyond," she says.

"We know that brain development is derailed somehow in people with schizophrenia, and this study helps us understand how," says Professor Shannon Weickert.

The next step is to understand why these neurons are failing to complete their journey to the cortex.

"Then maybe we can develop a therapy that encourages the neurons to keep moving to the finish line. Our hope is that this would reduce symptoms or even prevent schizophrenia from developing at all."

The paper is published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

Read the full story on the NeurA website.

Media contact: Maryke Steffens, NeurA media officer| 02 9399 1271