A study of the brains of rats exposed to lead has uncovered striking similarities with what is known about the brains of human schizophrenia patients, adding compelling evidence that lead is a factor in the onset of schizophrenia.

Results of the study by scientists at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health appear in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

The researchers found that lead had a detrimental effect on cells in three brain areas implicated in schizophrenia: the medial prefrontal cortex, the hippocampus, and the striatum of rats exposed to lead before birth and in the early part of their lives. Density of brain cells known as Parvalbumin-Positive GABAergic interneurons, or PVGI, declined by approximately a third — at roughly the same percentage decline seen in schizophrenia patients. And, using imaging technology, they identified higher levels of a dopamine receptor called D2R. Again, the magnitude of the increase matched what has been documented in human schizophrenia patients, and in a previous study of genetically engineered mice.

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