In Schizophrenia Research, a Path to the Brain Through the Nose

From a new study in Biological Psychiatry

Philadelphia, PA, January 25, 2012 – A significant obstacle to progress in understanding psychiatric disorders is the difficulty in obtaining living brain tissue for study so that disease processes can be studied directly. Recent advances in basic cellular neuroscience now suggest that, for some purposes, cultured neural stem cells may be studied in order to research psychiatric disease mechanisms. But where can one obtain these cells outside of the brain?

Increasingly, schizophrenia research is turning to the nose. Strange as it may seem, the idea makes sense because the olfactory mucosa, the sense organ of smell in the nose, is continually regenerating new sensory neurons from “adult” stem cells. These neurons are among the very few nerve cells outside of the skull that connect directly to nerve cells in the brain. 

Over several decades, researchers found that these cells can be collected directly by obtaining a small tissue sample, called a biopsy. By taking small pieces of olfactory tissue from the nose, researchers of this new study were able to gain access to the stem cells from patients with schizophrenia and compare them to cells from healthy individuals.

“We have discovered that patient cells proliferate faster - they are running with a faster speed to their clock controlling the cell cycle - and we have identified some of the molecules that are responsible,” explained Dr. Alan Mackay-Sim from the National Centre for Adult Stem Cell Research in Brisbane, Australia, an author of the study. The findings clearly indicate that the natural cell cycle is dysregulated in individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia.

“This is a first insight into real differences in patient cells that could lead to slightly altered brain development," Mackay-Sim added. This is an important finding, as scientists are already aware of many developmental abnormalities in the ‘schizophrenia brain’.

Dr. John Krystal, editor of Biological Psychiatry, commented: “The current findings are particularly interesting because when we look closely at the clues to the neurobiology of psychiatric disorders, we find new and often unexpected mechanisms implicated.”

The article is “Altered Cell Cycle Dynamics in Schizophrenia” by Yongjun Fan, Greger Abrahamsen, John J. McGrath, and Alan Mackay-Sim (doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2011.10.004). The article appears in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 71, Issue 2 (January 15, 2012), published by Elsevier.

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Notes for editors
Full text of the article is available to credentialed journalists upon request; contact Rhiannon Bugno at +1 214 648 0880 or Biol.Psych@utsouthwestern.edu. Journalists wishing to interview the authors may contact Dr. Alan Mackay-Sim at +61 7 373 57563 or a.mackay-sim@griffith.edu.au.

The authors’ affiliations, and disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available in the article.

John H. Krystal, M.D., is Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine and a research psychiatrist at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System. His disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available here.

About Biological Psychiatry
Biological Psychiatry is the official journal of the Society of Biological Psychiatry, whose purpose is to promote excellence in scientific research and education in fields that investigate the nature, causes, mechanisms and treatments of disorders of thought, emotion, or behavior. In accord with this mission, this peer-reviewed, rapid-publication, international journal publishes both basic and clinical contributions from all disciplines and research areas relevant to the pathophysiology and treatment of major psychiatric disorders.

The journal publishes novel results of original research which represent an important new lead or significant impact on the field, particularly those addressing genetic and environmental risk factors, neural circuitry and neurochemistry, and important new therapeutic approaches. Reviews and commentaries that focus on topics of current research and interest are also encouraged.

Biological Psychiatry is one of the most selective and highly cited journals in the field of psychiatric neuroscience. It is ranked 4th out of 126 Psychiatry titles and 15th out of 237 Neurosciences titles in the Journal Citations Reports® published by Thomson Reuters. The 2010 Impact Factor for Biological Psychiatry is 8.674.


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Media contact
Rhiannon Bugno
Biological Psychiatry, Editorial Office
+1 214 648 0880
biol.psych@utsouthwestern.edu