In a groundbreaking study released Wednesday, scientists have discovered a possible biological cause for schizophrenia.
Published in the journal "Nature," the findings suggest a link between "synaptic pruning" and the development of the personality disorder. As the human brain matures, it naturally sheds unnecessary or weak connections between neurons.
Normally, pruning occurs during adolescence in the prefrontal cortex, where critical thinking and planning skills develop. When certain genes intensify this process, however, a person can become predisposed to developing schizophrenia, the study suggests.
Researchers suspected synaptic pruning might be causation for schizophrenia, since previous studies showed those affected had a reduced number of neural connections compared to those without the disorder.
According to The New York Times, improved treatments based on these findings likely won't hit the market any time soon. That being said, the results have finally provided scientists with a firm biological grasp on a cause -- a breakthrough that's evaded researchers for decades.
With more than 2 million Americans currently suffering from the delusional thinking and hallucinations associated with schizophrenia, these findings are a promising sign of progress in the way of clinical tests, early detection and prevention.