Many answers about the science behind the schizophrenic brain have been revealed through recent studies, but there are still dwindling reports about what actually causes the chronic disorder. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology recently published a study that sheds light on a key schizophrenia symptom — memory problems — and are working to advance research and treatment of the disorder.

Researchers Zhen Qi and Eberhard Voit worked to data-mine massive amounts of information from nearly 50 labs around the world on a single symptom of schizophrenia — working memory — and then they engineered a chemistry simulator around it. The program artificially mimics major chemical changes in the brains of people with the disorder, and then it depicts them in simple graphics. Going forward, the colorful graphics may help clinicians explain the disease to patients and consider alternative therapies.

As Medical Daily previously reported, schizophrenia is characterized by a breakdown of thought processes and by poor emotional responsiveness. It most commonly manifests itself as auditory hallucinations, paranoid or bizarre delusions, or disorganized speech and thinking. It is also accompanied by significant social or workplace dysfunction.

So, what light has this model shed on the chemistry behind the disorder? First, there is currently a significant lack of medical treatment for the specific symptom tracked by researchers.

"Cognitive symptoms were actually associated with schizophrenia before symptoms like hallucinations became the focus," Voit — a Georgia Tech biomedical engineer and a Georgia Research Alliance eminent scholar, who also supervised the modeling effort — said. "Yet, drugs for schizophrenia mainly target the latter symptoms."

Additionally, those suffering with schizophrenia are more debilitated with the impairment of working memory than experiencing hallucinations.

The researchers created a collective graphic of the brain chemistry behind working memory dysfunction in schizophrenia. "That is new, this map. It reflects the collective knowledge of the scientific community," Voit said.

"With the information assembled, we wrote code to implement this model," Qi said. The result is a program of the neurochemical matrix that's easy to use.

The study’s findings will help clinicians to understand the disease’s chemical foundations and possible therapeutic alternatives. Also, with a few months' work, a graphic user interface could be developed to allow doctors and researchers to easily use Georgia Tech's new model.

Source: Zhen Qi et al, A heuristic model for working memory deficit in schizophrenia, Biochimica et Biophysica Acta . 2016.