Navigating the new road in psychiatry
By C. Simone Fishburn, Executive Editor, and Lev Osherovich, Senior Writer – Science-Business eXchange
This article has been re-posted with permission from Science-Business eXchange – © 2014 Nature Publishing Group.
The lack of predictive animal models for neuropsychiatric diseases is arguably the biggest single factor stifling drug development in the field. To kick-start discovery for diseases such as autism, schizophrenia and depression, stakeholders will need to abandon traditional models, build on emerging genetic findings and capitalize on new capabilities in stem cell technology, imaging and computational modeling.
Ultimately, drug developers will need to come together in precompetitive consortia, share data and find consensus for new standards, techniques and models.
After numerous clinical failures, the pipeline is thin and many pharmas have stepped away from the space. But progress in basic neurological science has given rise to a new theory of synaptic connectivity as a driver of neuropsychiatric disease.1
The hypothesis posits that disorders arise from abnormalities in synaptic connections between individual neurons and between entire brain regions involved in learning, cognition and emotion.
Recent genetic studies have associated mutations in synaptic genes with autism, schizophrenia and depression. Thus, many leaders in the field now view these seemingly diverse disorders as diseases driven by alterations in brain network activity—controlled by synaptic changes— and are discarding the classical view of them as neurotransmitter imbalances that can be corrected via specific receptors or transporters.
“There is a growing consensus on the study of neuropsychiatric disorders,” said Mriganka Sur. “There are about 400–500 genes that, when mutated, lead to similar clinical diagnoses of autism or schizophrenia. About 70% of the genes mutated in these disorders have some kind of synaptic function.” Sur is a professor of neuroscience and director of the Simons Center for the Social Brain at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.