SNARE protein properties in schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a severe psychiatric illness affecting one percent of the general population. Symptoms typically manifest in early adulthood and often have 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 (SNARE) proteins mediate this process, they are important in neuronal communication and normal brain function. Altered levels of SNARE proteins have been found in patients with schizophrenia. Vilte Barakauskas was funded by MSFHR for her initial PhD work in this area. Based on her previous findings, she hypothesizes that among people with schizophrenia, SNARE proteins function abnormally at the synapse, contributing to the disorder. She is now working to further characterize SNARE proteins in brain tissue, comparing control subjects to those with schizophrenia in order to identify which protein properties are different in the disorder, and how these differences contribute to altered neuronal communication and brain function. Comparison of protein properties between control subjects and those with schizophrenia may suggest a specific molecular mechanism contributing to altered neurotransmission. This new knowledge could lead to novel treatment targets for this devastating psychiatric disorder.