Virus May Play Role in Schizophrenia

ByABC News
April 9, 2001, 2:25 PM

N E W   Y O R K, April 9 -- Scientists have identified a piece of a virus in nerve tissue of schizophrenia patients, a finding that opens the possibility of someday helping these people with antiviral drugs.

The Johns Hopkins University researchers say it is the first time that a portion of a virus has been found in either the cerebrospinal fluid or brain tissue of a small group of newly diagnosed schizophrenic patients strong evidence the virus might play a role in the onset of the disease in these patients.

Virus Piece in Small Percentage of Schizophrenics

In a study of 35 schizophrenics, the investigators found the molecular footprint of the virus, or a piece of its ribonucleic acid or RNA, in about 30 percent of the patients with acute schizophrenia and 7 percent of the people with the chronic form of the disease.

The RNA was not found in the brains or cerebrospinal fluid of 12 people who did not have the disease.

While a low level of retrovirus expression occurs in most human tissues, we found an unexpectedly high level of expression in cerebrospinal fluids from individuals whod had a recent onset of schizophrenia, says Dr. Robert Yolken, director of the Stanley Division of Developmental Neurovirology at Johns Hopkins and lead author of the research, which appears in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Characterized by hallucinations and distorted perceptions of reality, schizophrenia is a devastating psychiatric illness that affects one in 100 people in the United States and results in the annual expenditure of $65 billion in health care and related costs.

Some people have one psychotic episode, while others have many episodes in a lifetime, leading relatively normal lives during the interim period. But people with chronic schizophrenia, or those with a continuing and recurring pattern of illness, do not fully recover normal functioning and require long-term treatment with a variety of medications.