Synapse Altering Drugs May Treat Schizophrenia, Autism

Investigational drug observed to induce synapse pruning in preclinical trials.

Due to recent findings, investigators believe drugs that target brain receptors have the potential to treat autism and schizophrenia when administered during adolescence. These drugs were observed to alter synapse number, resulting in altered brain function.

Memories are created at dendritic spines in the brain, and communicate with brain cells through synapses. After puberty, the amount of brain connections are reduced by 50% through synaptic pruning. This process is crucial for normal learning and cognitive function as an adult.

In patients with autism and schizophrenia, normal synaptic pruning does not occur, and is thought to result in cognitive impairment symptoms seen by patients with these conditions.

Adolescent schizophrenia is characterized by withdrawing from friends and family, poor performance in school, sleeplessness, irritability, strange behavior, and lack of motivation, as reported by the Mayo Clinic. The clinic also reports that patients with autism exhibit repetitive behavior, difficulty relating to others, social problems, and may have problems with coordination.

Previously, investigators discovered that a brain receptor can result in synaptic pruning in a preclinical model of adolescence. In a new study published by Neuroscience, the team of researchers explored the use of drug therapy to induce synaptic pruning to ease the symptoms of schizophrenia and autism.

They discovered that when the investigational drugs were administered during adolescence, the synapse number is altered. The investigators believe that these changes would be beneficial to patients with schizophrenia or autism.

"Drugs that enhance activity of this inhibitory receptor reduce synapse number, while drugs that decrease this inhibitory receptor increase synapse number,” said researcher Sheryl S. Smith, PhD.

Although these findings were promising in preclinical models, these targeted drugs are still investigational, and not available for human use, according to the study.

Since there are few effective treatment options for adolescents with schizophrenia and autism, validating the safety of the targeted drugs is an important step forward.

“These findings suggest that targeted drug therapies during adolescence could potentially be used to normalize synapse number in the brains of individuals with abnormal numbers of synapses, such as found in autism and schizophrenia,” Dr Smith concluded.