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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Is Schizophrenia Caused by a Virus?

A recent article in the June 2010 issue of Discover, proposes a new theory on the origins of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a devastating mental illness that affects 1% of the population. It is characterized by hallucinations, delusions, thought and movement disorders. There is no cure; current treatments include antipsychotic medications, along with psychosocial therapies. The cause of schizophrenia is unknown. Earlier theories that blamed bad parenting have given way to ones that focus on genetics. Recently, however, some scientists at the Johns Hopkins Stanley Medical Research Institute have proposed that an endogenous retrovirus that lies dormant as a stretch of DNA in the genome of all humans may play a role in the development of schizophrenia. While studying the cerebrospinal fluid of individuals with recent-onset schizophrenia, they found that 29% exhibited signs of a particular family of retroviruses known as Human Endogenous Retrovirus W (HERV-W), compared with none of the control patients. Researchers Robert Yolken and Fuller Torrey suggest that the retrovirus is somehow activated in schizophrenics. The hope for future investigation would be to develop a way to interfere with the retrovirus to prevent it from becoming active. If they can do that, it may give doctors another method of treating schizophrenia.

Douglas Fox. The insanity virus. Discover, 2010 June:58-64

Contributed by C.A.R.

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