November 26, 2007

Schizophrenia, Startled Response & Fabp7: Future Dietary Changes for At-Risk Mothers?

A recent study out of Japan has found a connection between startled response and schizophrenia. In the study published in the journal PLoS Biology, the authors report the identification of a gene linked to schizophrenia. Specifically, the authors found that a certain gene called Fabp7 was linked to a disfunctional "gating" mechanism in the brain, a problem thought to be present in the brains of people with schizophrenia.

The "gating" mechanism is responsible for organizing information that comes from the sense organs, and when it malfunctions, it is believed to be responsible for some of the characteristic symptoms of schizophrenia, namely, delusions, hallucinations and social withdrawal.

The researchers conducting the study worked in both Japan and the US, and examined a behavior known to indicate a faulty gating mechanism: prepulse inhibition (PPI). PPI occurs when a loud noise which should make any animal jump, is preceded by a quieter noise, which acts as a warning. However, in some individuals with schizophrenia, PPI fails. Even noises with a preceding quiet “warning” sound will cause a startled response. The authors investigated PPI in over 1000 mice to identify genetic variation that might underlie differences in startled response. The search honed in on the gene Fabp7.

Fabp7 (fatty acid binding protein) is involved in brain development and mental signaling. Mice that had faulty PPI had greater amounts of Fabp7, and so did the brains of deceased human patients who had experienced schizophrenia. The paper also offers some hope for the future. The authors suggest testing the benefit of altered diet during pregnancy for women with a high risk of having schizophrenic babies, as changes in the amount of Fabp7 may be linked to problems with lipid metabolism.

Though the authors do not yet know which dietary changes would serve as preventative measures for women with an increased risk of schizophrenia and thus higher amounts of Fabp7, we've covered past research stories which suggest general preventative dietary measures for women at risk of having children with schizophrenia. The authors suggest that further studies, which examine the benefits of the administration of certain fatty acids (for example Omega 3 fatty acids) during pregnancy in mice, may be helpful in moving toward research that pinpoints dietary changes during pregnancy which may be helpful to at risk mothers in maintaining schizophrenia-preventative levels of Fabp7.

Fabp7 Maps to a Quantitative Trait Locus for a Schizophrenia Endophenotype (PLoS Biology)


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