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Aurora magazine

Less oxygen in the womb, more risk of getting schizophrenia

Antenatal oxygen deficiency could favor the appearance of schizophrenia. The deficit is in fact linked to preeclampsia, which in turn could affect astrocytes. The effects of hypoxia on these brain cells could favor the appearance of the disease. This was stated in a study published in Scientific Reports, conducted by the Santa Casa de São Paulo Medical School (FCM-SCSP) in Brazil.

The researchers observed the effects of hypoxia on astrocyte mitochondria. Indeed, astrocytes are the most numerous cells within the brain, as well as the most important. Their job is to metabolize neurotransmitters such as glutamate, a key factor in schizophrenia. Their malfunction could therefore change the way neurons communicate, even leading to brain damage.

The author of the study, Dr. Luiz Felipe Souza and Silva, analyzed the effects of hypoxia in guinea pigs affected by hypertension. Babies born from guinea pigs exhibited schizophrenia-like symptoms in humans. Treatment with antipsychotic drugs has alleviated the symptoms, just like in humans. From what has been observed, cells subjected to hypoxia have altered mitochondrial calcium levels.

This hinders the production of energy for astrocytes, which therefore are unable to combat oxidative stress. Still, some types of hypoxia do not have this effect, on the contrary: cells produce a greater number of mitochondria, to balance their malfunction. The researchers are therefore looking for a way to trigger this process in case of hypoxia, so as to reduce the risk of permanent consequences.