According to a new study by a research team that includes NARSAD Grantees Robert Freedman, M.D., Randal G. Ross, M.D., Sherry Leonard, Ph.D. and Karen E. Stevens, Ph.D., choline, an essential nutrient, shows promise for lowering the physiological risk of developing schizophrenia. The team at the University of Colorado Denver administered prenatal dietary supplements of choline to pregnant mothers in the last two trimesters of pregnancy and postnatal supplements to their infants.
The team measured response inhibition to a clicking sound by measuring brain activity with EEG (electroencephalography) sensors placed on the baby’s head. While the healthy brain will inhibit a response to a second clicking sound following an initial clicking sound, this response has been shown to not be inhibited in patients with schizophrenia. Eighty-six percent of babies in this study who received the choline supplement were found to inhibit the second sound (“healthy” brain response) as opposed to only 43% of unexposed babies. The hypothesis is that effectively correcting the difficulty in sensory filtering in infancy may promote healthy brain development, thus preventing the onset of schizophrenia.
“Genes associated with schizophrenia are common, so prevention has to be applied to the entire population, and it has to be safe,” says senior study author Dr. Freedman, Professor and Chairman, Department of Psychiatry and Pharmacology, University of Colorado and Editor of The American Journal of Psychiatry. “Basic research indicates that choline supplementation during pregnancy facilitates cognitive functioning in offspring. Our finding that it ameliorates some of the pathophysiology associated with risk for schizophrenia now requires longer-term follow-up to assess whether it decreases risk for the later development of illness as well.”