Brain Activity in Rats on PCP Offers Clues to Schizophrenia

By Paul Gaita 04/16/14

When given a dose of angel dust, lab rats displayed changes in their brain chemistry that were comparable to the same changes seen in the schizophrenic brain.

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Researchers in Denmark have made significant strides in identifying brain activity that resembles the symptoms of schizophrenia by administering PCP to laboratory rats.

The study, conducted at the University of Southern Denmark, consisted of giving the powerful hallucinogenic drug to rats in order to study its effect on certain proteins in the brain; the animals were used due to the difficulty in studying people with the disorder and because they are affected by the drug in a manner similar to human beings.

When PCP was administered to the test animals, researchers could see immediate changes in 352 brain proteins – specifically, the proteins experienced a series of disturbances, including changes to the molecular network around the proteins that affected metabolism and calcium balance. In turn, these protein imbalances induced physical and mental changes in the rats, including affected movement and reduced cognitive functions.

According to Dr. Ole Nørregaard Jensen, head of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Southern Denmark, the disturbances are “probably comparable to the devastating changes in a schizophrenic brain.” By studying these reactions, Jensen said that researchers can now look for similar reactions in the brain proteins of schizophrenic patients.“If that’s the case, it will of course be interesting to develop a drug that can prevent the protein changes that lead to schizophrenia,” said Jensen.

Currently, the condition is treated with a host of conventional, or typical, antipsychotic medications like Thorazine and Haldol, as well as newer “atypical” antipsychotics, including Risperdal and Zyprexa.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.