Welp, this is an interesting development. We now have a considerably clearer understanding of one of the mechanisms behind schizophrenia, as a recent study published in Nature reveals. The authors of this large-scale study bringing together several lines of research, have identified a set of genes, particularly a variant of gene C4, C4A, involved in the culling, or pruning, of synaptic connections in the brain, and the findings were remarkable.
Particularly between the late teens and early twenties, the development of a normal brain involves some level of synaptic pruning as a means of increasing the efficiency of the brain’s operation, especially those neuronal connections that are seldom used.
I find this research particularly interesting because of my own personal history of schizophrenia. Anything that improves my understanding of this disorder, or more accurately, this class of disorders, is in my view a good thing. Insight and understanding have been two of the main tools in my ongoing recovery.
So, back to the study.
This particular gene variant results in an extraordinary rate of pruning of neuronal connections, in which synapses are so heavily deleted that many of the necessary connections in the adult brain are simply never established, resulting not just in delusional thinking and (in my case) hallucinations, but the cognitive issues many of us with the disorder experience.
I’m eager to see what direction further research will take.
It’s a monumental step nonetheless in understanding the process by which the illness develops. Schizophrenia is a complex family of disorders involving a interplay of mechanisms, with a strong genetic component, and it is highly heritable. It’s a class of illnesses that we now have a clearer understanding of. But I’m not pinning any (likely false) hopes on a cure from this.
To quote one of the collaborators of the study, neurology professor Beth Stevens of Boston Children’s Hospital,
“Now we have a path forward. We want to better understand how it’s working.”
Ubi Dubium… gets its title from a Latin proverb, and the current tagline for this blog. It is a limited series of posts dealing with science, scientific skepticism, and the unruly twin dragons of pseudoscience and antiscience. Join me, if you will, on an exploration of science and reason, their borderlands, wastelands, and why a good understanding of both is crucial to living in this age of science and technology.