Treatable Condition Could be Mistaken for Bipolar Disorder

antibodies
Credit to the NIH Image Gallery on flickr.com. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Researchers at Houston Methodist will pioneered a new study that will hopefully show that a significant number of people may have a treatable immune system condition often mistaken for either bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. This study could impact millions of people.

“We suspect that a significant number of people believed to have schizophrenia or bipolar disorder actually have an immune system disorder that affects the brain’s receptors,” said Joseph Masdeu, M.D., Ph.D., the study’s principal investigator and a neurologist with the Houston Methodist Neurological Institute. “If true, those people have diseases that are completely reversible – they just need a proper diagnosis and treatment to help them return to normal lives.”

In 2007, scientists discovered anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a disease which can be treated with immunotherapy medications that causes symptoms similar to bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. The encephalitis forces the immune system to attack N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors in the brain instead of invading agents.

The NMDA receptors control decision-making, thoughts, and perceptions, which is why this illness is often mistaken for bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. The encephalitis can also cause sufferers to hear voices or become paranoid.

The study will collect cerebral spinal fluid from 150 patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia and 50 healthy controls between the ages of 18 to 35. The fluid will be examined for antibodies attacking NMDA and other brain receptors. If abnormal antibodies are found, the researchers will notify the patient so he or she may consider treatment.

Masdeu plans to use the findings for development of further studies about antibodies.

Materials provided by Houston Methodist.

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