The causes of schizophrenia and possible treatments are one of the most extensively studied subjects within the medical science. However, pathophysiology of this disease remains unclear, while the annual global costs of schizophrenia therapy are counted in billions of dollars. Recent research in the area reveals that a traditional Japanese medicine – yokukansan – could be a potent agent for treating schizophrenic patients.
Yokukansan is an herbal mixture, originally described in the 16th century as a remedy for restless children. The 21st century reveals yokukansan therapy is also useful in reducing behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia, and may improve cognitive function of schizophrenic patients. However, the mechanisms, which cause the dramatic improvement in otherwise treatment-resistant schizophrenia, remained unclear.
A novel study published in Journal of Neuroinflammation reveals that yokukansan is responsible for decreased degeneration of neural cells within hippocampus, which otherwise results in cognitive deficit.
Hippocampus is the brain area, which is responsible for memory, learning and mood regulation, and is the primary focus of schizophrenia research. Cognitive dysfunction is thought to be the most related to deterioration of neural circuits in response to inflammation, as well as decreased neurogenesis – renewal of neurons within the region. Therefore, yokukansan may have anti-inflammatory effects or be responsible for renewal of neural networks. However, no definite mechanism has been described yet.
The researchers used rats as a model organism and proved that yokukansan may significantly reduce the amount of activated microglia – immune system cells, which destroy neurons in response to inflammation.
A number of anti-inflammatory drugs, like aspirin or minocycline, were recently suggested to have a similar effect; however, these therapies can manifest in adverse cardiovascular conditions, cause ulcers and gastrointestinal bleeding, and, in case of minocycline, are related to emergence of drug-resistant bacteria. On the other side, yokukansan proved to be safe and tolerable even for extended periods of treatment.
It should be noted that no direct influence on neurogenesis was observed; however, a number of in vivo studies on different animal models have shown this could also be the case.
The accumulated in vivo evidence suggests that yokukansan could be highly successful in treating cognitive dysfunction of varied origin, and may become an alternative and safer treatment option for schizophrenia.
Disclaimer: this article is not a medical advice, please contact a medical professional if you need help.