FDA Approves Treatment for Tardive Dyskinesia

May 26, 2017 · Posted in Current Treatments · Comment 

facesA new drug valbenazine (trade name Ingrezza) has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of tardive dyskinesia. Tardive dyskinesia, a side effect of long-term use of antipsychotic medication, consists of involuntary movements of the tongue, face, torso, arms, and legs. It can interfere with walking, talking, and breathing.

The approval followed 20 clinical trials of valbenazine that included a total of more than 1000 participants who had symptoms of tardive dyskinesia in addition to schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or bipolar disorder.

In a 2017 article in the American Journal of Psychiatry, researcher Robert A. Hauser and colleagues reported that patients who received 80 mg/day of valbenazine had a significant reduction in tardive dyskinesia symptoms after six weeks compared to those who received placebo. Participants who received 40 mg/day of valbenazine also had reductions in symptoms, although not as dramatic as with the higher dose.

Serious side effects of valbenazine include sleepiness and lengthening of the QT interval, which can increase heart arrhythmias. The FDA notes that people who already have abnormal heartbeats due to a long QT interval should not take valbenazine. In addition, people taking the drug should avoid driving or operating heavy machinery until they know how valbenazine affects them.

Levels of Amino Acid Proline Interact with COMT Genotype to Affect Negative Symptoms

May 24, 2017 · Posted in Course of Illness, Genetics, Neurobiology · Comment 

DNAIn a 2016 article, researcher Catherine L. Clelland and colleagues reported that a patient’s levels of the amino acid proline interact with their genetic profile to influence the seriousness of their negative symptoms. Negative symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder include flat affect and lack of volition and can be some of the hardest symptoms to treat.

High levels of proline in the central nervous system have been linked to schizophrenia. Proline is a precursor to the neurotransmitter glutamate, and high proline levels have been found to alter glutamate and dopamine signaling in mice. This is one of the factors affecting negative symptoms.

The other factor affecting negative symptoms is the COMT gene. The enzyme catechol-o-methlyl transferase (COMT) metabolizes dopamine in the prefrontal cortex. There are several common versions of the gene for COMT. The most efficient is known as val-158-val, identifying that the gene has two valine amino acids at position 158. People with high proline levels and the val-158-val version of the COMT gene had fewer negative symptoms than people with high proline levels and another version of the gene, val-158-met (indicating one valine and one methionine amino acid at position 158).

Clelland and colleagues hypothesized that high proline levels may actually counteract the dopamine shortages common in the prefrontal cortex in people with the val-158-val genotype of COMT, which is more efficient at breaking down dopamine in this region.

The mood stabilizer valproate increases proline levels. In the study, which was published in Translational Psychiatry, people with schizophrenia and the val-val genotype had fewer negative symptoms when treated with valproate than those with the val-met genotype who received the same treatment.

Continuing Marijuana Use After a First Episode of Psychosis Increases Risk of Relapse

May 5, 2017 · Posted in Risk Factors · Comment 

marijuanaA 2016 article in the journal JAMA Psychiatry reports that continuing to use cannabis after a first episode of psychosis increases risk of relapse. The study by Sagnik Bhattacharyya and colleagues employed longitudinal modeling to determine the role of cannabis use in psychotic relapse. The researchers followed 90 women and 130 men for two years after a first episode of psychosis, and found that the more marijuana they used, the more likely they were to have a relapse of psychosis.

Relapse rates were highest (59.1%) for participants who used pot continuously following their first episode of psychosis. Relapse rates were lower (36.0%) for those who used cannabis intermittently thereafter, and lowest (28.5%) among those who discontinued cannabis use after their first episode of psychosis.

A statistical test known as a cross-lagged analysis was used to establish that cannabis use affected later relapse, rather than relapse of psychosis leading to further cannabis use.

Another statistical strategy using fixed-effect models revealed that risk of psychotic relapse was 13% higher during times of cannabis use than during periods of no cannabis use.

These findings offer some hope that the likelihood of psychosis relapse can be reduced, since ongoing cannabis use is a risk factor that can be modified, unlike family history or genetics. Bhattacharyya and colleagues called for research into interventions that can help discourage cannabis use in people who have had a first episode of psychosis.

Editor’s Note: N-acetylcysteine, a nutritional supplement sold in health food stores, can reduce cannabis use compared to placebo in teen users.

Cannabis Use May Cause Schizophrenia

May 1, 2017 · Posted in Risk Factors · Comment 

marijuanaCannabis use has been linked to schizophrenia risk, and new genetic research suggests a causal relationship between the two. In a 2017 article in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, researcher Julian Vaucher and colleagues reported that lifetime cannabis use was linked to schizophrenia even when the researchers controlled for 10 genotypes weakly associated with lifetime cannabis use. This makes it unlikely that the schizophrenia caused the cannabis use, suggesting instead that it is the cannabis use that leads to a schizophrenia diagnosis.

Vaucher and colleageus also controlled for genetic associations between cigarette smoking and cannabis use to eliminate cigarette use as a third variable causing the association between cannabis and schizophrenia.

The study by Vaucher and colleagues included 34,241 people with schizophrenia and 45,604 healthy controls.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Be Helpful Early in Schizophrenia, But Not Later

January 24, 2017 · Posted in Potential Treatments · Comment 

sources of omega-3 fatty acidsSome studies have suggested that omega-3 fatty acids may be helpful in the treatment of schizophrenia, but data to support this idea have been inconsistent. A recent meta-analysis of research on omega-3s and schizophrenia suggests that this nutritional supplement might be more useful in early-stage schizophrenia than in later illness.

At the 2016 meeting of the Society of Biological Psychiatry, researchers led by Alexander T. Chen presented the findings of their meta-analysis. First they analyzed six studies that shared a common scale for measuring schizophrenia symptoms. In these studies, omega-3 fatty acids did not outperform placebo when used as an add-on treatment to antipsychotics for people with schizophrenia.

In four remaining studies of omega-3 fatty acids and schizophrenia, the omega-3s were associated with improvement only in patients in the early stages of schizophrenia. Compared to placebo, the supplements decreased non-psychotic symptoms, decreased the dosage of antipsychotic medication patients required, and improved early treatment response (but not late treatment response) in patients in their first episode of schizophrenia.

In the same study, omega-3 fatty acids also reduced conversion to full-blown schizophrenia and psychotic symptom severity in patients at high risk for schizophrenia who were having preliminary symptoms of the illness.

Editor’s Note: Researcher Paul E. Keck has also found that omega-3 fatty acids may be more effective early in bipolar disorder rather than later. He reported that younger patients with bipolar depression and rapid cycling showed more improvement when taking the omega-3 fatty acid EPA than when taking placebo. In contrast, patients with bipolar depression who were over the age of 45 did worse on EPA than on placebo.

Part of the ambiguity about whether omega-3 fatty acids can help treat or prevent mental illness may be explained by the supplements working better in younger people or earlier in the course of an illness.

Kynurenine Pathway Suggests How Inflammation is Linked to Schizophrenia

December 20, 2016 · Posted in Neurochemistry · Comment 

schizophrenia

The kynurenine pathway describes the steps that turn the amino acid tryptophan (the ingredient in turkey that might make you sleepy) into nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide. This pathway might be a connection between the immune system and neurotransmitters involved in schizophrenia.

A recent autopsy study by researcher Thomas Weickert and colleagues explored this link by determining that in the brains of people with schizophrenia and high levels of inflammation, messenger RNA for Kynurenine Aminotransferase II (KATII, a step on the kynurenine pathway) was elevated in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex compared to the brains of people who died healthy and those with schizophrenia but low levels of inflammation.

The KATII mRNA levels also correlated with mRNA levels of inflammatory markers such as glial fibrillary acidic protein and interleukin-6.

Blood measures related to the kynurenine pathway also differentiated people with schizophrenia from healthy controls. People with schizophrenia had lower levels of tryptophan, kynurenine, and kynurenic acid in their blood. The low levels of kynurenic acid in the blood were correlated with deficits in working memory and smaller volume of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

Weickert and colleagues suggest that blood levels of kynurenic acid might provide a measurable indicator of the degree to which people with schizophrenia are experiencing problems with executive functioning (planning and decision-making) and loss of brain volume.

Meta-Analysis Shows Inflammation is Common in Unipolar Depression, Bipolar Depression, and Schizophrenia

December 19, 2016 · Posted in Risk Factors · Comment 

inflammation in schizophrenia

In a symposium at the 2016 meeting of the Society of Biological Psychiatry, Mark Hyman Rapaport described the results of his research group’s meta-analysis of studies comparing levels of inflammation in the blood of people with unipolar depression, bipolar depression, and schizophrenia. Rapaport and colleagues determined that people acutely ill with any of the three illnesses showed abnormally high levels of certain inflammatory proteins. These included: interleukin-1beta, interleukin-6, TNF alpha, and c-reactive protein. Those who were chronically ill showed elevations in interleukin-6.

These data are consistent with increasing evidence that inflammation also occurs in the brain. Brain inflammation can be observed by measuring translocator protein binding, a measure of brain microglial activation, using positron emission tomography (PET) scans.

Low Vitamin D Linked to Small Hippocampus & Schizophrenia

August 15, 2016 · Posted in Risk Factors · Comment 

Low vitamin D linked to small hippocampus and schizophrenia

Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to schizophrenia in several studies. In one, infants with low vitamin D were more likely to develop schizophrenia in adulthood, but supplementation reduced this risk. A 2015 article by Venkataram Shivakumar and colleagues in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging found that among patients with schizophrenia who were not currently taking (or in some cases, had never taken) antipsychotic medication, low levels of vitamin D  were linked to smaller gray matter volume in the right hippocampus, an area involved in schizophrenia.

Vitamin D has neuroprotective effects and is important to normal brain development and function. Vitamin D is essential to the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that is important for learning and memory, and vitamin D also reduces oxidative stress. BDNF deficiency and oxidative stress have both been linked to schizophrenia, and they both can cause abnormalities in the hippocampus.

Perinatal Choline Supplements May Reduce Risk of Schizophrenia

June 7, 2016 · Posted in Potential Treatments, Risk Factors · Comment 

choline supplementsMany psychiatric illnesses, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and anxiety disorders may stem from abnormalities in brain development that begin before birth. Researchers are trying to determine whether dietary supplements taken by pregnant mothers or infants can reduce the risk of such illnesses. At a recent scientific meeting, researcher Randal Ross and colleagues reported that compared to placebo, choline supplements reduced problems with a brain process called sensory gating in one-month-old infants and also improved the children’s attention span and social skills at age 3.

Sensory gating is the process by which the brain filters out unimportant information, to avoid flooding higher cortical centers with irrelevant stimuli. Deficits in the way the brain inhibits response to this type of irrelevant information are associated with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.

In Ross’s study, healthy pregnant mothers received either a placebo or 6300 mg of choline, a nutrient found in liver, egg yolks, and meat. After delivery, the infants also received 700 mg of supplemental choline per day. In children who carried CHRNA7, a risk gene for schizophrenia discovered by Ross’s colleague Robert Freedman, choline reversed the associated risk of sensory gating problems and normalized their behavior at age 3.

Guanfacine Improves Cognition in Schizophrenia

April 19, 2016 · Posted in Potential Treatments · Comment 

cognitive function in schizophrenia

People with disorders on the schizophrenia spectrum often suffer cognition problems that affect skills such as the processing of information about people and social situations (social cognition) and the execution of plans (executive function). At the 2015 meeting of the Society for Biological Psychiatry, researcher Larry J. Siever reported that the drug guanfacine improved these types of thinking in people with disorders on the schizophrenic spectrum compared to placebo. Participants were enrolled in a 7.5-week training program to improve cognition.

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