Anti-Inflammatory Medications May Become a Treatment for Schizophrenia

New study published in Biological Psychiatry

Philadelphia, PA, October 27, 2008 – Many of the structural and neurochemical features of schizophrenia are present long before the full syndrome of schizophrenia develops. What processes tip the balance between the ultra-high risk states and the development of schizophrenia? One candidate mechanism is cerebral inflammation, studied by Dr. Bart van Berckel and colleagues in the November 1st issue of Biological Psychiatry.

Using positron emission tomography, or PET, imaging, the researchers provide evidence of a brain inflammatory state that may be associated with the development of schizophrenia. The authors reported increased binding levels of [11C]PK11195, a radiotracer with high affinity for the peripheral benzodiazepine receptor (PBR) in patients who had carried the diagnosis of schizophrenia for five years or less. PBR is a molecular target that is present at higher levels in activated microglia. Microglia are activated during inflammatory states. Drs. van Berckel and Kahn further explain: “It was found that microglia activation is present in schizophrenia patients early after disease onset, suggesting brain cells are damaged in schizophrenia. In addition, since microglia can have either a protective or a toxic role, activated microglia may be the result, but also the cause of damage to brain cells.”

John H. Krystal, M.D., Editor of Biological Psychiatry and affiliated with both Yale University School of Medicine and the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, adds, “It will be important to understand whether this process takes place in a special way in association with the first onset of symptoms or whether inflammation is more generally a process that contributes to worsening of symptoms.” Because this data suggests that inflammation may contribute to features of the early course of schizophrenia, a new potential avenue of treatment for schizophrenia may be to use anti-inflammatory agents. Although some anti-inflammatory medications have already been studied, with limited success, in schizophrenia patients, a new generation of these drugs that more specifically target activated microglia have yet to be explored.

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Notes to Editors:The article is “Microglia Activation in Recent-Onset Schizophrenia: A Quantitative (R)-[11C]PK11195 Positron Emission Tomography Study” by Bart N. van Berckel, Matthijs G. Bossong, Ronald Boellaard, Reina Kloet, Alie Schuitemaker, Esther Caspers, Gert Luurtsema, Albert D. Windhorst, Wiepke Cahn, Adriaan A. Lammertsma, and RenĂ© S. Kahn. Drs. van Berckel, Caspers, Cahn, and Kahn are affiliated with the Department of Psychiatry, while Dr. Bossong is affiliated with the Departments of Neurology and Neurosurgery, all at the Rudolf Magnus Institute for Neuroscience, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands. Drs. Boellaard, Kloet, Schuitemaker, Luurtsema, Windhorst, and Lammertsma are with the Department of Nuclear Medicine & PET Research, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The article appears in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 64, Issue 9 (November 1, 2008), published by Elsevier.

The authors’ disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available in the article. Dr. Krystal's disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available here.

Full text of the article mentioned above is available upon request. Contact Jayne M. Dawkins at (215) 239-3674 or ja.dawkins@elsevier.com to obtain a copy or to schedule an interview.

About Biological PsychiatryThis international rapid-publication journal is the official journal of the Society of Biological Psychiatry. It covers a broad range of topics in psychiatric neuroscience and therapeutics. Both basic and clinical contributions are encouraged from all disciplines and research areas relevant to the pathophysiology and treatment of major neuropsychiatric disorders. Full-length and Brief Reports of novel results, Commentaries, Case Studies of unusual significance, and Correspondence and Comments judged to be of high impact to the field are published, particularly those addressing genetic and environmental risk factors, neural circuitry and neurochemistry, and important new therapeutic approaches. Concise Reviews and Editorials that focus on topics of current research and interest are also published rapidly. Biological Psychiatry is ranked 4th out of the 95 Psychiatry titles and 16th out of 199 Neurosciences titles on the 2006 ISI Journal Citations Reports® published by Thomson Scientific.

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