Targeted Treatment for Schizophrenia Announced
One of the first targeted treatments for schizophrenia has been announced in this month's American Journal of Psychiatry. The new drug, currently referred to as experimental compound MK-0777, targets working memory problems.
Working memory refers to a temporary storage and processing system. It is an active system in the sense that information stays in memory only so long as the person is consciously manipulating or processing it. Any deficit in working memory can have a profound effect on people with schizophrenia as working memory is what is needed to remember and complete a task. Furthermore, the ability to reason and make decisions are part of the same system, which is frequently disturbed in people with schizophrenia.
Professor David Lewis, M.D., Endowed Chair in Translational Neuroscience in the departments of psychiatry and neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, is lead author of the study. Reported in the online research website ScienceDaily, Lewis refers to the existing medication used to treat psychiatric disorders as decades old and resulting only from, "serendipitous discoveries." Professor Lewis contrasts this with MK-0777, where he states, "we have identified a faulty brain circuit in schizophrenia, found an agent with characteristics that affect a specific molecular target in that circuit, and then tested it to see what happened."
An area of the brain, known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) is considered highly influential in working memory. Several previous studies have shown decreased blood flow to the region. The neurons responsible for these changes use a neurotransmitter called GABA. The effect of MK-0777 is to bind to a section of the GABA receptor and, "turn up the volume" on GABA signaling.
For the study, 15 men with schizophrenia took either a placebo or MK-0777 for a period of four weeks. Those in the MK-0777 condition showed improvements both in the EEG trace for normal working memory and in working memory itself. The drug was well tolerated which gives an incentive for more trials to be undertaken in order to assess the full potential of this experimental compound.