A growing number of scientists believe that schizophrenia is not caused by bad genes or by a difficult upbringing. Some scientists believe that the disease develops from an infection.
Tests have shown that those afflicted with the disease have a hard time walking a straight line heel to toe and can’t touch their face with their eyes closed. There were also signs of inflammation in their white blood cells, which help fight infection. Further examination showed that schizophrenics had less tissue in their brains and more fluid filled ventricles. Chronic inflammation and loss of brain tissue along with results from other studies have lead some neurologists to believe that schizophrenia is a brain disease and not a psychological disorder.
Research has revealed that human genes are embedded with a retrovirus called HERV-W. Our DNA carries thousands of incomplete copies of HERV-W as well as several full copies. Our bodies work to keep the virus contained but at times they slip out.
Several studies have found elements of HERV-W in the blood and brain fluids of people with schizophrenia. One study showed that 49% of people with schizophrenia to 1% of healthy people showed a presence of the virus in their blood. They study also showed that the amount of HERV-W was synonymous with the amount of inflammation.
It is believed that infections around the time of birth weaken the body’s ability to contain the retrovirus. The escape of HERV-W wreaks havoc on the infant’s immune system attracting immune cells like police at a prison riot.
An experiment was performed on mice in which HERV-W was injected into them. They first became clumsy, then paralyzed, and then died from brain hemorrhages. In a similar experiment the mice were depleted of their T-cells, or immune cells before they were injected. The mice survived the exposure leading scientists to believe that the development of schizophrenia depends on how the immune system responds to the exposure of HERV-W.
Perhaps in schizophrenia, inflammation damages neurons by overstimulation causing them to discharge neurotransmitters, which subsequently leads to hallucinations, paranoia, delusions, and other symptoms of the disease.
More research is still being conducted to prove this theory. Scientists believe that better prenatal care or vaccination will prevent the first, early infections that can possibly put people on the course to schizophrenia.