- Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that impacts behavior and perceptions of reality.
- Researchers are still working to understand brain changes present in schizophrenia and the best approaches to treatment.
- Data from a recent study found that the drug fasudil could be an effective treatment option for schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is one type of mental illness that can significantly impact someone’s everyday life. Researchers and specialists are working to explore changes that occur in the brain in schizophrenia, as well as the best approaches to treatment.
A recent study found that a drug called fasudil effectively improved schizophrenia symptoms and brain changes in mice.
The study was published in Pharmacological Research.
“Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that affects how an individual perceives reality and interacts with others. It is one of the most severe forms of mental illness, typically characterized by hallucinations, delusions, disorganized speech and behavior, as well as cognitive deficits.”
Dr. Parmar said that in recent years, there have been many discoveries “concerning schizophrenia’s etiology and physiology—and these advances could potentially lead to improved treatments in the future.”
Remedying cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia
Meanwhile, Dr. John Cottone, licensed psychologist specializing in schizophrenia, who was also not involved in the study, explained the role of medications in the treatment of schizophrenia:
“Antipsychotic medication, typically with drugs that inhibit dopamine expression, is the most common treatment for schizophrenia, but these drugs, when effective, work mostly on psychotic symptoms, but hardly at all on the mood or cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia.”
Dr. Cottone pointed out that such mood symptoms are often treated with antidepressants or mood stabilizers.
“[H]owever, there are still few or no options for remediating the cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia,” he said.
Researchers are still working to understand the brain changes in people with schizophrenia. There is also interest in what genes and mutations may contribute to the development of schizophrenia.
This particular study looked at mice with specific gene mutations on the Arhgap10 gene. This mutation is believed to be associated with schizophrenia. Mice with these mutations exhibited key signs and symptoms of schizophrenia.
Dr. David Feifel, psychiatrist and neuroscientist, who was not involved in the study, explained to MNT:
“Previous to this study, a certain gene mutation was found to occur in higher rates of people with schizophrenia than in people who don’t have that condition. In addition, it was found that in mice that had this mutation experimentally induced, the mutation resulted in increased activity of a certain enzyme, Rho-kinase.”
The current study authors theorized that inhibiting this particular enzyme would result in a reduction of schizophrenia manifestations. So, they gave mice the drug fasudil to test this hypothesis.
They found the mice they gave fasudil to showed significant improvements in two key areas.
First, the mice exhibited improved spine density of a specific brain area that was previously reduced. Second, the mice showed improvement in cognitive function that was previously impaired.
The results indicate that rho-kinase may play a key role in schizophrenia and that inhibiting this enzyme may lead to improvements.
“The [researchers] gave the mice with the genetic mutation a drug which reduces Rho-kinase and found, that indeed, the mice given the drug had less of the brain and cognitive abnormalities than similar mice injected with a neutral substance indicating that the increase in Rho-Kinase activity was responsible for the schizophrenia-like brain and cognition abnormalities,” Dr. Feifel explained.
The study did have several limitations. The study was in mice, so further research is needed to understand how the information would apply to people.
Further research is also required to understand the underlying mechanisms of fasudil and what molecules it specifically impacts. Researchers noted that fasudil may also affect other enzymes and that these reactions may have contributed to the results.
“Developing an actual treatment based on this study is, however, still a long way off because this study only demonstrated effectiveness in a mouse model of schizophrenia. Animal models of schizophrenia are highly imperfect representations of schizophrenia, and often treatments that work in animal models do not work in humans with schizophrenia,” Dr. Feifel noted.
Regardless, the study continues the advancement of understanding schizophrenia and treatment options.
Dr. Feifel noted that the study’s key takeaway is the possibility of another treatment option for schizophrenia.
“This study is important because it suggests that developing drugs that inhibit the activity of a certain brain enzyme called Rho-kinase, which has been linked to certain brain features and symptoms of schizophrenia, might represent a new approach to treating schizophrenia.”
— Dr. David Feifel
Dr. Cottone elaborated on what this could mean for people with schizophrenia in the future:
“Given that the cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia are the most resistant to treatment, and to this point considered irreversible, research findings suggesting that the biological causes of schizophenia’s cognitive symptoms can be identified and treated would be a significant advance. In fact, such findings could be a game-changer for patients with this debilitating illness.”
“This study may offer hope in the discovery of a biological mechanism involved in the cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia.”
— Dr. John Cottone