A new study suggests that abnormal attention between two brain regions can lead to attention deficit disorder – including schizophrenia, and major depression.
Schizophrenia is a chronic mental disorder in which a person’s behaviour becomes abnormal and his ability to understand reality fails. People suffering from this condition become unable to concentrate and display compulsive behaviour.
According to the study, these symptoms could be a result of the dysfunction in the gene, ErbB4. This gene is known for psychiatric disorders – it helps different parts of the brain to communicate and maintain a healthy neurotransmitter level in the brain.
The team also showed that mice lacking the gene ErbB4 activity in particular parts of the brain performed poorly on time attentions tasks. The mice were unable to pay attention or remember the visual cues associated with food. The researchers described it as “top-down attention.”
Top-down attention is linked to concentration and people who lack this are more likely to develop attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
“The results reveal a mechanism for top-down attention, which could go wrong in attention disorders,” said a corresponding author of the study. “And since ErbB4 is a risk factor for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression, the results provide insights into mechanisms of these disorders,” he added.
For the study, the team investigated the prefrontal cortex – normally associated with the hippocampus (a region that supports memory) and decision-making. These two parts of the brain coordinate for numerous brain tasks such as attention and memory.
The study states that ErbB4 coordinates a cascade of brain signals that "bridge" the two regions. ErbB4 itself encodes a receptor found on the surface of brain cells.
It was also stated that when a protein (neuregulin-1) attaches to the ErbB4 receptor, it triggers a chain reaction that ultimately determines neurotransmitter levels in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. Without ErbB4, neurotransmitter levels go awry.
To learn more about the mechanisms behind attention deficit disorders, the researchers used a novel mouse to study brain functions and are planning to use the same to study how ErbB4 coordinates with other brain activities.
The study was published in the Journal of Neuron.
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