By stimulating dead brain tissue, neuroscientists have concluded that a specific receptor found in the outer layer of neurons functions differently in schizophrenic brains. Schizophrenia, a disorder affecting about 1 percent of Americans, stems partly from genetic factors. Current treatments alleviate only a small fraction of the symptoms, which may include hallucinations, paranoia and disorganized behavior.
The N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor is one of several which bind to glutamate, a key neurotransmitter. In schizophrenic brains, scientists believe the function of NMDA receptors, which normally play a critical role in many neural processes, may be disrupted. How this dysfunction in binding contributes to schizophrenia is unclear, but this latest examination provides the first direct evidence of a correlation to diminished NMDA-receptor function.