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.
Stansfield et al., 2015 - Early-life lead exposure recapitulates the selective loss of parvalbumin-positive GABAergic interneurons and subcortical dopamine system hyperactivity present in schizophrenia.
One of the researchers interviewed for this BBC news article was Dr Bernard Gesch - a Senior Research Scientist at the University Lab of Physiology, Oxford, and Founder of the research charity Natural Justice, which he set up to investigate causes of criminal antisocial behaviour - including lead.
One of the people who helped Bernard significantly in this work was the late Professor Derek Bryce-Smyth - who pioneered the recognition of lead's neurotoxicity, and the drive to ban lead from petrol.
Dr. Bernard Gesch spoke at the Food and Behaviour Research event in London
10 July 2014 - Sugar, Fat, Food and Addiction: New Approaches to the Public Health Crisis
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.
"The similarities in the brain structure and neuronal systems between what we see in lead-exposed rats and human schizophrenia patients are striking, and adds to a growing body of literature suggesting that early lead exposure primes the brain for schizophrenia later in life," says senior author Tomás Guilarte, PhD, chair of Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School.