Scientists discover protein that may protect against schizophrenia

(ORDO NEWS) — Experiments in mice have shown that malfunctioning of the SAP97 protein leads to abnormal activity in a small region of the hippocampus, causing the memory impairments characteristic of schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is a mental illness that is diagnosed in more than 20 million people worldwide. Its symptoms include decreased emotionality, memory impairment, depersonalization, and hallucinations.

The nature and mechanisms of the development of this disease remain one of the most intricate mysteries of the brain. Geneticists have identified dozens of genes that are associated with an increased risk of developing schizophrenia, but the function of many of them is unknown.

One of these genes codes for Synapse-Associated Protein 97 (SAP97), and abnormalities in this gene correlate with the most marked increase in disease risk, 40-fold.

However, until now it was not clear exactly how SAP97 works. This is exactly what the team of Bruce Herring, a professor at the University of Southern California, found out. Their article is published in the journal Nature Communications .

One of the hypotheses about the nature of schizophrenia is called glutamatergic, according to one of the most important signaling molecules in the brain, glutamic acid (glutamate).

The assumption arose due to the fact that disorders of some glutamate receptors cause symptoms similar to schizophrenia. Other works also point to a possible connection of the disease with dysfunction of the glutamatergic system. The SAP97 protein is also part of it.

Until now, scientists have not been able to notice exactly what changes in the work of the glutamatergic system cause violations of SAP97 function.

However, Bruce Herring and his colleagues decided to look at an area of ​​the brain that has not yet fallen into the focus of such studies – the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus. It is considered one of the key in the work of memory, first of all, contextual episodic memory, accumulating a chronology of personal memories of what happened and its circumstances. Episodic memory failures are common in people with schizophrenia.

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