Characterization of SNARE complex proteins in severe mental illness

Schizophrenia is a severe psychiatric illness affecting one percent of the general population. It typically begins in early adulthood and often has a devastating effect on an individual’s quality of life and functioning in society. The diverse and debilitating symptoms associated with schizophrenia include hallucinations, delusions, dampened emotion and poverty of speech. It has been hypothesized that faulty neuronal function may contribute to these symptoms. Communication between neurons is achieved by neurotransmission at synapses. Because soluble NSF-attachment receptor proteins (SNAREs) mediate this process, they are important in neuronal communication and normal brain function. Altered levels of SNAREs have been found in patients with schizophrenia, which may mean that abnormal levels of SNARE proteins disrupt normal transmission of synapses, contributing to the disorder. Vilte Barakauskas will compare SNARE protein levels from control subjects and from people with schizophrenia to identify differences in the brain. She will also attempt to identify the significance of SNARE properties in their role in neurotransmission. This information will increase our understanding of why brain function may be altered in people with schizophrenia. By comparing protein properties between control subjects and those with schizophrenia, Vilte is looking for molecular mechanisms that may contribute to altered neurotransmission. This may ultimately lead to new treatments for, and a better understanding of, this psychiatric disorder.