Antibodies to Brain Proteins May Trigger Psychosis

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The body’s autoimmune system may play a role in the hallucinations and delusions in some children with psychosis that experience hallucinations and delusions.

Fabienne Brilot, PhD, head of the neuroimmunology group at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead in Sydney, Australia, and colleagues say that the hallucinations may be a result of overactive antibodies. In most people, antibodies serve to protect the body from bacteria and viruses. But when antibodies attack healthy cells, it can lead to autoimmune disorders.

Antibodies to the dopamine D2 receptor or the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) glutamate receptor were found in a subset of children experiencing their first set of psychosis, the researchers reported in the journal Biological Psychiatry. Both are signaling proteins known to be involved in psychosis. However, the antibodies are not found in healthy children.

Medications to stimulate the two receptors have been used by psychiatrists for other psychiatric conditions, and are known to produce side effects reminiscent of psychosis. The researchers believe that some people develop antibodies that impact the brain in ways similar to these drugs.

“These findings also contribute significantly to an emerging acceptance in the field of the involvement of autoimmune antibodies in neurological diseases,” Brilot said in a statement. “Combined, these investigations are providing a better understanding of the biology of psychiatric and neurological diseases, as well as pointing to novel treatment approaches for children with these debilitating illnesses.”

Antibodies to Brain Proteins May Trigger Psychosis
Antibodies to Brain Proteins May Trigger Psychosis

The hallucinations and delusions in a subset of children with psychosis may be linked to overactive antibodies, according to a new study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry. The findings add to a growing body of research that supports an “immune hypothesis” for certain types of psychosis.

In a healthy person, antibodies protect the body against bacteria, viruses, and other invaders. But when the antibodies begin to attack  healthy cells, an automimmune disorder can develop.

In the new study, researchers detected antibodies to the dopamine D2 receptor or the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) glutamate receptor in a subgroup of children experiencing their first episode of psychosis. Both are key neural signaling proteins that have previously been implicated in psychosis. These antibodies were not found in healthy children.

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