Two Antibodies Linked to First-Episode Psychosis in Children

In what could be the first study to directly confirm that autoimmune processes can contribute to the onset on psychiatric illness, researchers from the University of Sydney discovered two antibodies that were linked to first-episode psychosis in children.

While they normally protect the body from foreign invaders that can cause infection or illness, sometimes antibodies attack healthy cells - which can result in autoimmune conditions like type 1 diabetes and celiac disease.

In 8 of 43 children who were experiencing their first episode of psychosis, researchers found two antibodies to the dopamine D2 receptor and the N-methyl-D aspartate glutamate receptor. These same antibodies were not found in healthy children, the researchers said.

Key neural signaling proteins

Both of the antibodies detected have been linked to psychosis before, as they are critical proteins involved in neural signaling.

"The antibodies we have detected in children having a first episode of acute psychosis suggest there is a distinct subgroup for whom autoimmunity plays a role in their illness," said Dr. Fabienne Brilot, senior author of the study and Head of the Neuroimmunology Group at The Children's Hospital at Westmead in Sydney.

Drugs that affect dopamine receptors have been critical in the evolution of psychosis treatment, but the new study suggests that glutamate receptors may also play a central role in the identification and management of conditions like schizophrenia.

"Further research will reveal whether these antibodies are the mark of a clinically relevant subset of patients and, if so, whether immunosuppressive therapies can effectively treat children with these debilitating illnesses," Dr. Brilot said.

Source: University of Sydney

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