Patients With Schizophrenia Show Unique Differences in Neurons

Patients With Schizophrenia Show Unique Differences in Neurons

Neurons are perhaps the most intriguing cells from our bodies, and there’s an average number of 100 billion of these fascinating structures in each individual’s brain. Scientists knew that there’s a strong link between brain cells and schizophrenia, and they could now have a deeper look at the problem.

As writes, researchers from Tokai University in Japan used powerful X-rays to observe details of neurons on a nanometer scale. They found evidence that those who have schizophrenia also possess brain cells that pose unique differences in curvature and thickness.

Two X-ray microscope technologies used

The researchers involved in the new study had to use the microscope technology from the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Photon Source (APS) and another one from the Spring-8 light source facility from Japan. Both technologies can use a synchrotron, a mechanism of accelerating particles along curving paths. This causes the particles to shed wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation in the spectrum’s X-ray part. By using X-rays to photograph details of neurons, it’s a good way to capture the details of the cell’s membrane. The research team had been taking tissue samples from the brains of eight deceased people, and four of them were diagnosed with schizophrenia. The obtained images were put together by reconstructing neurons as digital models.

But neurons are also long structures, despite the fact that they’re microscopic. Vincent De Andrade, who is a physicist in Argonne’s X-ray Science Division, declared:

The sample has to move through the X-ray beam to trace the neurons through the sample,

​The field of view of our X-ray microscope is about 50 microns, about the width of a human hair, and you need to follow these neurons over several millimetres.

While the curvature and thickness of neurons’ features were different among the individuals with schizophrenia, compared to those who didn’t have the condition, the differences could affect how the brain cells send messages between them. This could even explain some symptoms of schizophrenia, but scientists hope to find more answers in the next few years with an advanced synchrotron that will likely produce X-ray beams 500 times brighter.

De Andrade also said:

The APS upgrade will allow for better sensitivity and resolution for imaging, making the process of mapping neurons in the brain faster and more precise,

We would need resolutions of better than 10 nanometres to capture synaptic connections, which is the holy grail for a comprehensive mapping of neurons, and those should be achievable with the upgrade.

The scientists are optimistic that the new findings could lead to better methods of treatment for patients who suffer from schizophrenia.

This new research was published in Translational Psychiatry.


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