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Early Infection Link to Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a psychiatric disorder for which the cause remains unclear. In a recent set of findings, Cambridge Neuroscientist Dr Golam Khandaker and colleagues have confirmed that exposure to certain infections before birth or during early childhood can increase the chances of developing schizophrenia as an adult. Dr Khandaker (pictured right) is a psychiatrist and epidemiologist based in the Department of Psychiatry.

In a systematic review recently published in Psychological Medicine, Dr Khandaker showed that maternal infection while pregnant, for example with flu or herpes simplex, leads to an increased chance of that child developing schizophrenia in adulthood. There was also a higher chance of having certain differences in brain structure and function that are associated with the condition.

In a meta-analysis published in Schizophrenia Research, a technique that is able to pool together a large amount of data from different studies, Khandaker included data from over 1.2 million people, including previously unpublished data from a large cohort in Sweden. He found that viral (but not bacterial) infections of the central nervous system, such as meningitis, during early childhood almost double the risk of developing schizophrenia.

These findings all support the idea that certain types of infections can interfere with normal brain development early in life and in some cases, can cause schizophrenia.

In these reviews, Dr Khandaker also sheds light on the critical timing involved, suggesting that inflammatory responses to infection may crucially interfere with neurodevelopment, and cause this debilitating disorder. Together with Head of Department Professor Peter Jones and Professor Glyn Lewis at the University of Bristol, Dr Khandaker is expanding these investigations further by looking at data from a cohort of over 10,000 individuals born around Bristol in the early 1990s.

Adapted from article written by Julia Graham for the Department of Psychiatry News.

Posted on 06/07/2012

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