Virus Found in Schizophrenic Patients

WASHINGTON, DC-Pieces of genetic code resembling viral genes were found in spinal fluid and brain tissue of a group of schizophrenic patients, forcing researchers to find the link between a virus and the neurological disorder.

A group of researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine examined 35 German schizophrenics. Within this group, 29% of those recently diagnosed with acute schizophrenia had a "footprint" of a retrovirus in their cerebrospinal fluid. The same footprint was found in 7% of those with a chronic form of the disease. The same retroviral genes were not found in the brains or cerebrospinal fluid of healthy people with other neurological diseases.

Scientists have found the virus at the source of the disease, but do not know if it is the cause or an effect of the initial disorder. If viruses are found to be the cause of schizophrenia, an antiviral treatment therapy could be effective.

Schizophrenia is a group of psychotic disorders that affects 1% of the world's population. People who suffer from the disease have bizarre physical behavior, changes in brain function, and are delusional.

The footprint found in the spinal fluid and brain tissue is a retroviral RNA created by the endogenous retrovirus in the "W" family. Previous research shows that schizophrenia is probably caused by genetic and environmental factors. This new research shows the HERV-W-like retrovirus could be the environmental component in some schizophrenia cases.

Retroviruses also can causes diseases such as AIDS and leukemia. The human genome has many of these genes naturally, which cause many chronic diseases like multiple sclerosis, autoimmune arthritis, and diabetes.

A different study also recently highlighted the discovery of five genes that form and maintain myelin sheaths may be lacking in schizophrenics. The sheaths are necessary for signal transmission along nerve-cell fibers. Schizophrenics seem to have these turned off.

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