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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Schizophrenia and Cocaine Use with Lead Exposure

New research suggests that there may be a link between lead exposure and early onset schizophrenia, Medical News Today reports. At Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, researchers found that lead had a detrimental effect on cells in areas of the brain associated with schizophrenia.

The areas of the brain include:
  • Medial Prefrontal Cortex
  • Hippocampus
  • Striatum
Rats exposed to lead before birth and in the early part of their lives that had brain scans, showed striking similarities to the brains of human schizophrenia patients, according to the article.

"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.

Further research dealing with cocaine use, indicated that rats exposed to lead showed a much stronger reaction to cocaine, compared to rats that were not exposed. While follow-up research is necessary, the preliminary findings suggest that schizophrenia may be only one of the consequences of lead exposure.

"We are currently assessing the impact of lead exposure on both the rewarding and reinforcing properties of addictive drugs like cocaine while exploring the biological underpinnings of how lead exposure plays a role in addiction," says first author Kirstie Stansfield, PhD, associate research scientist at the Mailman School.

The findings appear in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

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