Years ago, patients with psychiatric disorders were dismissed from society and received little treatment. Schizophrenic patients were often locked away with their hallucinations, to suffer in silence. Not much is known about exactly how the disorder works in the brain, or what exactly causes it. For the first time in years, scientists have reached a breakthrough in the research of this extreme disorder.
Recently, the scientists at the Broad Institute of Harvard University and MIT along with those from the Massachusetts General Hospital have discovered new locations on the human genome related to the disorder and possibly, what is causing it.
Psychoactive drugs used to treat certain symptoms of schizophrenia do just that: treat certain symptoms. Patients with the disorder most commonly experience delusions and hallucinations, as well as intense paranoia and other psychotic symptoms such as catatonia, or what is colloquially known as "word salad" and an inability to function around other people, in more urgent cases.
Little is known about what exactly causes the shift in the chemistry of the brain, which leads to the psychotic symptoms and effects of schizophrenia. What is known is that patients with the disorder are known to have excess levels of a neurotransmitter called dopamine in the brain as well as serotonin. Neurotransmitters are chemicals found in the brain which help to regulate neural functions. Patients treated with antipsychotics may experience relief from certain symptoms because they reduce the release of dopamine as well as serotonin which alleviates some of the imbalance.
Advances in the research of schizophrenia may someday lead to a cure. Those who suffer from this disorder normally first experience symptoms at a young age, and are forced to be medicated and sometimes institutionalized to alleviate the pressure of society.
According to the article about the research conducted at the Broad Institute, "The study implicates genes expressed in brain tissue, particularly those related to neuronal and synaptic function. These include genes that are active in pathways controlling synaptic plasticity -- a function essential to learning and memory -- and pathways governing postsynaptic activity, such as voltage-gated calcium channels, which are involved in signaling between cells in the brain." This means that we are now one step closer to understanding the genetic history of the disorder and how to stop it before symptoms arise.
New information about the disease and its origins are jumpstarting more advancements in the field of psychiatry and biology as a whole, as we explore the mysteries of the human genome.