Sign of Schizophrenia Can Be Detected in Human Hair, Scientists Say

Scientists say they have found a biomarker for schizophrenia that can be detected in human hair.

In a study, researchers showed hydrogen sulfide—a gas and signaling molecule—was present in the brains of humans and mice with symptoms of the mental disorder, and that it acts as a biomarker for the condition.

Schizophrenia is characterized by symptoms including hallucinations, such as hearing voices, delusions and disorganized thoughts, as well as not having the full range of emotions of the average person.

Around 1 percent of the global population has the condition, which usually emerges between the late teens and the early thirties of a person's life. Currently, a person will most likely be diagnosed with the condition after being assessed by a mental health specialist. Both genetic and environmental factors contribute to its development.

For the study published in the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine, Japanese researchers studied mice with what are known as high or low prepulse inhibitions. This is where an individual is less scared by a noise when they are first given a warning burst. People with schizophrenia can have a lower prepulse inhibition, so are startled despite the initial noise.

The team found mice with lower prepulse inhibitions expressed more of a particular enzyme that helps to produce hydrogen sulfide, and had higher levels of the gas itself. By reducing the amount of the enzyme the mice created, the scientists were able to improve their prepulse inhibitions.

To see if they could make similar findings in humans, the researchers then looked at the post mortem brains of people who had schizophrenia, and found the expression of the special enzyme was higher in those with worse symptoms when compared with the brains of those without the condition.

They also studied hair follicles of over 149 people with schizophrenia and compared them with 166 of individuals without the condition. Again, the levels of the enzyme that make hydrogen sulfide was higher in some of those with the mental disorder.

The team believes the high levels could come down to changes to DNA during development, which linger into adulthood.

Study co-author Takeo Yoshikawa, of the Laboratory of Molecular Psychiatry at Japan's RIKEN Center for Brain Science, told Newsweek the drugs currently used to treat the condition were discovered over half a century ago, but don't work for around 30 percent of patients.

"In spite of these conditions, pharmaceutical companies have abandoned the development
of new drugs," he said.

Yoshikawa explained: "Our study is expected to provide a novel paradigm for drug development. Inhibitors of H2S-synthesizing [hydrogen sulfide] enzymes are hoped to be beneficial for the treatment of schizophrenia, at least those patients who are not satisfied with the current drugs."

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Scientists say they have found a biomarker for schizophrenia. A stock image shows a woman having a therapy session. Getty