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Schizophrenia and the microbiome

Mental health and its possible relation to the microbiome is a controversial topic in today’s news. Here’s new research suggesting that schizophrenia may be linked to the oropharyngeal microbiome, as the study found “high-level differences” in bacteria of people diagnosed with the disorder and of those without. If true, this could add insight into the question of what effects our colonization by microscopic workers–genes or environment? While we don’t know exactly what causes schizophrenia, the general theory is that there are certain genes that increase the risk for it by altering brain chemistry — we say it “runs in the family.” For instance, we know that an identical twin is more likely to get it if their twin has it too. But genetics don’t always explain whether or not someone gets the disorder; environmental factors seem to come in to play, too.

If brain disorders like schizophrenia can so strongly affect a body’s chemical environment that they influence the microbes living in it, how can this tell us about how different microbes are attracted to and hosted by that body? Sure, maybe there is no clear cause-and-effect case here, but how much do we know about how different chemical environments, within and outside our bodies, provide for novel community structures?

(Built environment addendum: People used to think that crowded, urban environments increased the risk of developing schizophrenia, but that’s not really clear anymore. What if it isn’t so much the density of people inhabiting a place that is the additional environmental factor here, but the bacteria that our buildings cultivate? If so, how can we design for that? Refutations welcome.)

A holobiont: One for all, and all for one!

2 thoughts on “Schizophrenia and the microbiome

  1. I’m sorry, but have you read the paper?
    I stopped reading after: “Cases were more likely to be cigarette smokers than controls (χ2 = 18.6; p value < 0.0001; 62.5% and 0%, respectively)". The have 16 cases. There's no way they can control for this effect.
    So much for the chemical effects of schizophrenia. Unless it makes you smoke…

    1. Thank you for bringing attention to this important aspect, Paul! You can see after that fact is stated in the paper that they really try to eliminate the smoking conditions as much as they can, even down to the species level to their best knowledge, but as you said, 16 cases… how much can you really expect to gain from these values with almost two thirds of the cases being smokers and none of the controls, and with the limited knowledge of what species are associated with smokers vs. non-smokers? I’m still interested in the question, but I’m looking forward to seeing the results of a more comprehensive set-up.

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