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Onset mechanism of schizophrenia is different between males and females, new study shows

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Posted September 4, 2019

Schizophrenia affects more than 21 million people worldwide. It is a mental disorder, characterized by a decreased ability to understand reality. People with this condition suffer from unclear or confused thinking, hearing voices, violent thoughts and other symptoms. Men are affected more often than women, which is why scientists set out looking for sex-specific genes related to schizophrenia.

The neurobiological pathophysiology of schizophrenia differs significantly between males and females. Image credit: cometstarmoon via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

This new research, co-ordinated by the University of Helsinki, the University of Eastern Finland and Karolinska Institutet, analyzed the differences in gene and protein expression in neurons from identical twins discordant for schizophrenia and healthy controls. Scientists paid more attention in differences between men and women. Researchers took skin cells from the participants and used induced pluripotent stem cell technology to generate neurons. They compared cells from monozygotic, genetically identical twin pairs, one of which suffered from schizophrenia and the other healthy and identified disease-specific changes in neurons.

There are hundreds of known genes associated with schizophrenia, but the mechanism of the onset of the disease is still poorly understood. In this research pathways related to glycosaminoglycan and neurotransmitter metabolism and GABAergic synapse were linked to schizophrenia. More importantly, scientists observed differences between men and women in terms of the onset of schizophrenia.

Scientists discovered that the mechanisms involved in the development of schizophrenia differ at least partially between males and females. There have been hypotheses like that before, based on the fact that men suffer from schizophrenia much more usually than women, but now it is finally proven in a scientific study. These results have significant implications. Currently both men and women schizophrenia patients are receiving identical treatments, which is far from ideal. This study proves that tailoring therapies by sex would result in a more effective treatment.

This study also showed that schizophrenia-related brain changes may be present early in utero. In fact, differences between monozygotic twins can also be observed already at this point already. Such an early detection could lead to a prepared early treatment.

World Health Organization states that one in two people living with schizophrenia does not receive care for the condition. And it is a treatable disorder. WHO also states that schizophrenia care can be provided at community level, with active family and community involvement. Understanding that men and women with schizophrenia need different treatment could lead to more accurate and helpful guidelines.

 

Source: University of Helsinki

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