Studies Show Potential New Directions in Mental Illness Treatment


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New research may help humans have happier lives: Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt

Two studies on animal brains were released in an abstract looking at new research in treating mental illness. These two studies examined chemical production and receptors in animal brains. The studies both determined that certain chemicals and receptors in animal brains, when reduced, cause certain mental illness.

McGill University Study

McGill University, located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, released a study entitled, Animal Study May Explain Link between Prenatal Infection and Schizophrenia. Lead researcher for this study, Melissa Burt, examined the impact of prenatal infections on specific brain chemical receptors. Her research showed that receptors vital for long-term memory were affected by prenatal infections. Decoded Science asked Dr. Burt about the future impact of her study. Burt replied:

“Since infections are so common, maternal infection during pregnancy could be an important contributor to the development of schizophrenia.  Understanding how specific environmental factors, like prenatal infection, increase the risk for schizophrenia is necessary in order to devise preventive strategies for this serious disorder.  Also, developing useful animal models, with relevance to schizophrenia, can provide tools to test new drug treatments.”

This research by Burt gives a new tool to researchers attempting to combat schizophrenia before the child is born, and new drugs to treat existing patients.

Yale University Study

Yale University, located in New Haven, Connecticut, released a study entitled Brain Chemical is Key to Antidepressant Response. The study was led by Maha Elsayed, and examined the impact of one brain chemical on depression. The chemical, called fibroblast growth factor-2, or FGF2, was injected into the brains of animals, stimulating the growth of glia, which are non-neuronal brain cells. Studies are showing that a reduced number of glia in the brain can cause depression symptoms.

When asked about future studies looking at FGF2 and glia production, Elsayed told Decoded Science:

“Our next set of experiments will be designed to determine whether signaling in the prefrontal cortex via one of the receptors for FGF2, FGF receptor-1 is required by FGF2 to exert antidepressant responses. This will help us identify the receptors that are responsible for eliciting the antidepressant effects of FGF2. Determining the receptors involved in mediating the actions of FGF2 will not only shed light on the cellular mechanism involved but also by manipulating signaling of specific receptors we can get more specificity and thus less side-effects.”

Determining which reactors are most sensitive to FGF2 will help researchers create new methods of treating depression in humans. The link between the receptor and the use of FGF2 could eventually lead to better antidepressant treatments for clinical depression and chronically depressed persons.

Prenatal infections have been linked to schizophrenia: Photo by Nevit Dilman

Implications of Both Studies

Depression and schizophrenia have been treated in the past as psychosomatic disorders, located in the minds of patients. It was believed that therapy and understanding were enough to change the person’s behavior and resolve the conditions. As researchers continue looking at the chemical makeup of the brain, and how different receptors react to different brain chemicals, a clearer picture of what is taking place appears. For individuals dealing with schizophrenia or depression, these studies show that it is a physiological disorder, not simply “all in your head,” as was believed in the past.

New studies will complete the picture, leading to better treatment, prevention and diagnosis for people dealing with mental illness. New treatment options and preventative care may reduce the number of people affected by these disorders significantly in the years to come.


Elsayed, M., et al. FGF2 is Necessary and sufficient for the gliogenic and behavioral actions of antidepressants. (2011). Yale University, New Haven, CT.

Burt, M.A., et al. Prenatal infection, a risk factor for schizophrenia, produces spatial processing deficits and N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) hypofunction in the hippocampus of adolescent male rat offspring. (2011). Douglas Mental Health University, Montreal, QC, Canada.

Mental Illness: Probing the Causes of Schizophrenia, Depression, and Anxiety. (2011). Society of Neuroscience. Accessed December 8, 2011.

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