SYDNEY, Sept. 14, 2018 /PRNewswire/ — Professor Cynthia Shannon Weickert at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) has identified immune cells in greater amounts in the brains of some people with schizophrenia. The study published today in Molecular Psychiatry has the potential to transform global schizophrenia research and open new avenues for developing targeted immune cell therapies.
The study has challenged the long held assumption that immune cells were independent of the brain in psychiatric illness and made an exciting discovery.
“We identified immune cells as a new player in the brain pathology of schizophrenia,” said Professor Shannon Weickert.
Until now schizophrenia research focused on the status of three brain cells: the neurons; the glial cells, which support the neurons; and the endothelial cells, which coat the blood vessels. New molecular techniques allowed the team to identify a fourth cell, the macrophage, a type of immune cell in brain tissue of people with schizophrenia who show high levels of inflammation.
“Immune cells have previously been ignored as they had long been viewed simply as travelers just thought to be passing by, undertaking surveillance work. They have never been a suspect until now,” said Professor Shannon Weickert.
“To find immune cells along the blood brain barrier in increased amounts in people with schizophrenia is an exciting discovery. It suggests immune cells themselves may be producing these inflammatory signals in the brains of people living with schizophrenia.”
“We have observed in people with schizophrenia, the glial cells, one of the local residents, become inflamed and produce distress signals which change the status of the endothelial cells.”
“We think this may cause the endothelial cells to capture the immune cells when they travel by. These cells may transmigrate across the blood brain barrier entering the brain in greater amounts in some people with schizophrenia compared to people without the disorder,” said Professor Shannon Weickert.
Professor Shannon Weickert is encouraging a cross-collaborative approach between neuroscientists and immunologists globally, to work together to develop treatments targeting this abnormal immune pathology of schizophrenia.
“This opens whole new avenues for therapy, because it suggests the pathology of schizophrenia could be within the immune cells and the immune cells could be contributing to the symptoms of schizophrenia,” said Professor Shannon Weickert.