New Schizophrenia Drugs May Treat Social Symptoms
> 12/11/2007 2:13:16 PM

Schizophrenia is a devastating psychosis, and while there are moderately successful medications to treat the pronounced hallucinations and delusions, there is very little that can be done to restore some of the more subtle abilities that many schizophrenics lose. These "negative" symptoms of schizophrenia include an inability to maintain relationships and a lack of appropriate emotional displays, and they add up to make it very difficult for most schizophrenics to reintegrate into the community even after the initial psychotic episode is handled.

Johan Rung, a PhD student at Göteborg University, has been working on the problem of treating social symptoms for years, and the culmination of his promising investigations was just released. Rung's earlier work focused on finding the best way to replicate schizophrenia symptoms in the laboratory. He settled on the drug MK-801, an NMDA-receptor antagonist, which could reliably induce social withdrawal in rats.

Rung injected rats with MK-801 and then set out to find ways of treating the social withdrawal. Previous attempts have focused on generally increasing or decreasing the level of dopamine that circulates in the brain, but Rung realized that dopamine stabilizers might be more effective. He used two medications, ACR16 and OSU6162, that balance out extremes so that dopamine in all parts of the brain returns to levels that are normal for that region if not neccessarily average compared to the rest of the brain. Motor sensors and cameras documented a clear return of social function with ACR16 and OSU6162, an effect not seen using two traditional antipsychotics, haloperidol and clozapine, as controls.

While rats do not always respond to a drug in the same way that humans do, they have been helpful in numerous schizophrenia studies and may prove so again here. Dopamine regulators may prevent a diagnosis of schizophrenia from being a life-sentence of isolation and hospitalization. Patients with restored social skills might be more adept at keeping jobs and friends, preserving a social support network that can help them deal with their illness.

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