Mental disorders are serious health problems that affect a higher number of Americans than combining all types of cancer together. According to NIMH around 2.2 million people in USA suffer from schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental disorder that impacts a person’s state of thinking, feeling and behavior. People who suffer from schizophrenia will exhibit symptoms such as delusions, lack of concentration and motivation, hallucinations, reduced speaking and they might seem as if they have lost touch with reality.

Even though there is no cure to treat schizophrenia, studies have developed new and safer treatments. Scientists have known for a long time that this disorder has a heavy genetic component and they believe that many genes contribute to the pathology and susceptibility of schizophrenia but not one gene if totally responsible for causing the disorder by itself.

The imbalance of some neurotransmitters in the brain heavily affects the development of schizophrenia. A study that was published in Biological Psychiatry looked into the concentrations of neurotransmitters in the brains’ of schizophrenics. The neurotransmitters studied were GABA, a neurotransmitter that is involved in chemical signaling between brain and nervous system, glutamate which is a precursor for GABA and it’s the main excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitter of the brain. Another neurotransmitter they studied was glutamine.

They used magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MR spectroscopy which compares the chemical composition of normal brain tissue with abnormal tumor tissue) to study 21 chronic, medicated schizophrenia patients, 23 healthy first-degree relatives of schizophrenia patients, and 24 healthy non-relatives. Glu, Gln, and GABA were measured cortically and subcortically in bilateral basal ganglia and occipital cortex.

thumbnail_brain image                                                            Anatomical scan of a representative participant’s brain

The results of this study showed that schizophrenics had lower levels of cortical GABA in comparison with the healthy relatives and non-relatives. This finding suggests that altered GABA systems in schizophrenia are associated with either disease state or medication effects.1 Despite GABA, cortical glutamate was found to have lower concentrations in affected individuals. This fact suggests that altered glutamatergic metabolite levels are associated with illness liability. 1 The results of this study did not reveal any difference between affected and non-affected individuals in the basal ganglia.

Combined, these findings give scientists an idea of which kind of systems we want to study in order to develop new treatments for this disastrous disease.



  1. Katharine N. Thakkar,Lara Rösler,Jannie P. Wijnen,Vincent O. Boer,Dennis W.J. Klomp,Wiepke Cahn,René S. Kahn,Sebastiaan F.W. Neggers. 7T proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy of GABA, glutamate, and glutamine reveals altered concentrations in schizophrenia patients and healthy siblings. Biological Psychiatry.2016
  2. Marsman, A., van den Heuvel, M.P., Klomp, D.W., Kahn, R.S., Luijten, P.R., and Hulshoff Pol, H.E.Glutamate in schizophrenia: a focused review and meta-analysis of (1)H-MRS studies. Schizophr Bull.2013; 39: 120–129.Print.
  3. Moghaddam, B., Adams, B., Verma, A., and Daly, D. Activation of glutamatergic neurotransmission by ketamine: a novel step in the pathway from NMDA receptor blockade to dopaminergic and cognitive disruptions associated with the prefrontal cortex. J Neurosci. 1997; 17: 2921–2927. Print.