Schizophrenia is a mental health disorder that is often associated with a number of symptoms and can also be found in people suffering from things such as major depressive illness, anxiety disorders, and even substance abuse problems. Some of the symptoms that people with the mental disorder exhibit include thinking that is confused or unclear, having false beliefs, a reduction in their ability to engage socially and even hearing voices that no one else can hear.
Researchers have looked into ways to help people with schizophrenia to reduce these symptoms and one particular compound kynurenic acid (KYNA) looks to have some promising results in a current study out of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. In a new study done on mice, researchers found that adjusting the levels of kynurenic acid seemed to have a rather significant effect on behavior associated with schizophrenia. The study findings were published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.
Over the last few years, researchers have determined that this particular compound is actually a key player in the mental health disorder, which means that changing its levels in a person might have some positive benefits. People who suffer from the disorder often have higher levels of kynurenic acid in their brains than the average individual. The compound affects the level of glutamate and for people with schizophrenia, there is often less glutamate sending out signals than in people without the disorder.
According to Robert Schwarcz, PhD, a professor at the university who worked on the study, their new research helps to support the theories that they have believed for some time now. Specifically, their findings explain how kynurenic acid can become dysfunctional in relation to the mental health disorder.
When mice with lower levels of kynurenine 3-monooxygenase (KMO), an enzyme that is critical to determining levels of the compound, interacted with other mice they exhibited characteristics associated with people who have schizophrenia. Researchers took these findings to meant that “this suggests that KMO and KYNA may play a key role in the disease.”
Based on their findings regarding kynurenic acid and glutamate, they believe it is possible that by modifying the compound they could in turn adjust glutamate more precisely in order to not have the nerve cell death and seizures associated with boosting the signal enhancer on a larger scale. With this boosting being more indirect, it seems to have less of an effect in terms of triggering the negative side effects associated with boosting glutamate more directly. While more clinical research will be necessary, for people with schizophrenia, this could end up being a much-needed answer to the symptoms they deal with on a daily basis.
By Dorothea James