What is the cause of schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a commonly known mental illness that is caused by improperly controlled signaling in the brain. There are many chemical pathways in the brain that need to function correctly in order for it to properly develop during the first twenty-five years of life. If these pathways do not signal and function as they should, mental illness can result.
One of the underlying causes of schizophrenia is an overabundance of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. The excessive dopamine is produced in the basal ganglia of the brain and travels to the striatum in the brain where it binds to its D2 dopamine receptors.
When dopamine binds to its receptors, this causes the subsequent signaling pathways, the Wnt and GSK3 pathways, to be ineffective in signaling for neural development and growth. The development of neurons and neural circuitry is inhibited, and therefore smaller brain size can result, which is commonly seen in people with Schizophrenia.
The loss of gray matter occurs mostly in the hippocampus, the prefrontal cortex, and the basal ganglia regions of the brain. Brain loss in these areas can present as disordered thinking, agitation, memory loss, mental confusion, hallucinations, hearing voices and inappropriate emotional response, which are many of the symptoms of schizophrenia.
The complications with neural development early on can cause schizophrenia, however it is difficult to recognize the disease until people are in their late teens or twenties. It can be very challenging to diagnose at a young age, because children are still changing and maturing, and the behaviors may be too indistinct to associate with schizophrenia until maturity is reached.
Another factor that makes diagnosis challenging is that symptoms might not present themselves until a certain traumatic event or environmental change triggers their onset. The factors that are involved with schizophrenia are not only genetic, but they are environmental as well, and certain events may cause damage to the neural circuitry that could lead to the manifestation of disease symptoms.
What can we do to help?
It is important for the public to be aware that schizophrenia is a very serious illness and that it can be highly debilitating for those who are unable to experience relief with medications. Some people with schizophrenia may have trouble keeping a job if they have to miss work too many days when they are having a hard time. It may also be difficult to maintain healthy relationships because the symptoms can include cognitive, mood, behavioral and psychological inconsistencies, which might make it hard for others to feel comfortable. It is necessary that we are understanding of people dealing with this difficult disease and that we dedicate the time to listen and recognize what they are going through.
It is useful to keep in mind that mental illness is a health problem like any other chronic disease someone may be dealing with, and that the patients need all of the support and care they can get from family, friends, coworkers and the public. We need to recognize schizophrenia as a legitimate disease and treat those affected as we would anyone else dealing with a chronic health problem.
For more information on the Wnt and GSK3 signaling pathways visit the attached link: https://moodle.cord.edu/pluginfile.php/625277/mod_resource/content/2/2013%20wnt%20GSK%20and%20schizophrenia.pdf
For more information on altered areas of the brain in people with schizophrenia, visit the attached links: