Potential Biological Marker for Schizophrenia Identified
Are retrovirus infections the cause of schizophrenia? "We're not saying that all cases of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are caused by retroviruses, but it may be the case for a subpopulation of patients," Hart says.
The findings could have important implications for the diagnosis and management of schizophrenia, as well as understanding its cause. "This could mean that we will have new ways of diagnosing schizophrenia, possibly through a blood test. It could also affect drastically how people are treated. ... Perhaps someday people who fall into this category will be treated with antiviral drugs in addition to [antipsychotic] medications," Hart says. According to both Hart and Lillehoj, no studies of antiviral therapy for schizophrenia are currently underway.
Retrovirus infection could also help explain the familial occurrence of schizophrenia, Hart tells WebMD. "Retroviruses can be transmitted from parent to child. It's possible that this type [of schizophrenia] is transmitted genetically, and not so much by person-to-person contact."
Yolken is conservative about the clinical utility of what's known about retroviruses and schizophrenia at this time. He tells WebMD, "It's an evolving story. There's a lot we still don't know. Our long-term goal is to come up with some way of interfering with this activation and modulating it so that we come up with a new way of treating this disease."