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An Elephant Schematic of Schizophrenia Research

February 26, 2012

In an article in Schizophrenia Research, published April 2011, a group of researchers led by Matcheri S. Keshavan, MD, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Massachusetts Mental Health Center, liken the current state of schizophrenia research to an ancient Indian fable about Blind Men and an Elephant.

In the fable, six blind men touch different parts of an elephant and come to different conclusions about what the elephant is. While each one is right about his part of the elephant, to figure out what they’re really touching they would have to integrate their observations. Similarly, at present there are many observations of the pathology in schizophrenia that need to be connected.

One unifying idea that’s been proposed is that genetic, environmental, or epigenetic factors lead to changes in the activities of various neurotransmitter systems, including the glutamategric, GABAergic, dopaminergic and cholinergic systems. Ultimately, these changes may alter E/I balance and brain plasticity.

Image modified from Figure 1 in Keshavan MS, Nasrallah HA, Tandon R. Schizophrenia, "Just the Facts" 6. Moving ahead with the schizophrenia concept: from the elephant to the mouse. Schizophr Res. 2011 Apr;127(1-3):3-13.

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