Approximately 1 % of the population experiences episodes of schizophrenia at least once in their lifetime. Schizophrenia is a serious disease with multiple characteristic symptoms including hallucinations, delusions, perceptual disturbances, reductions in speech, anhedonia, and alogia. Patients suffer from lethargy, blunted emotional responses, and social withdrawal, which often becomes manifest in comorbid depression and drug abuse. Accordingly, a high incidence of suicide is observed, amounting to about 5-10% of all cases. Medications and psychotherapy as treatment opportunities are at hand. However, not all patients respond to therapeutic intervention, presumably due to high heterogeneity among patients. But how is it possible to unravel the individual etiology of this disease and to develop novel treatment opportunities with the help of living nerve cells given that the isolation of such cells from the human brain is precluded?
An international consortium, led by several researchers from Tübingen (the Universitätsklinik für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie, the NMI at the University of Tübingen, Reutlingen, and the company CeGaT GmbH), has achieved an important advance recently published in the renowned journal „Translational Psychiatry“. Under the guidance of Prof. Dr. Andreas Fallgatter, Universitätsklinik für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie, skin cells were obtained from precisely diagnosed patients with schizophrenia and genetically reprogrammed into so-called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) in the team of Prof. Dr. Hansjürgen Volkmer at the NMI. iPSCs are able to differentiate into many different cell types including neurons after exposure to appropriate culture conditions. „These cells harbor the exact copy of all genes of each individual patient. Therefore, biochemical and cell biological experiments provide information on the individual disease etiology“, says Prof. Dr. Volkmer. Dr. Saskia Biskup from CeGat GmbH points out that „iPSC-neurons from patients with schizophrenia can be genetically and physiologically discriminated from those of healthy individuals or from patients with autism“. The researchers hope that the new approach enables a better understanding of the individual causes for the development of schizophrenia and thereby opens up new avenues to therapeutic interventions.