Authors: Alice Weatherston
Research published recently in PLOS One has highlighted a link between decreased levels of vitamin B12 in the brain and autism, schizophrenia and aging. The findings indicate a potential new avenue for therapeutic research for the diseases and shed light on a previously unrecognized adaptive decrease in a brain vitamin level across the human lifespan.
The study analyzed and compared brain tissue samples from otherwise healthy deceased donors and from deceased donors that had been diagnosed with either autism of schizophrenia. In total, 43 healthy subjects were used, ranging in age from 19 weeks to 80 years, in addition to 12 autistic and nine schizophrenic subjects.
Results indicated that the presence of a neuropsychiatric condition and natural aging were both linked to decreases in vitamin B12 levels. For example, children with autism under the age of 10 exhibited three times lower brain B12 levels than their healthy counterparts and healthy individuals aged 61–80 in the study possessed three times lower B12 levels than younger age groups. More specifically, brain levels of methylcobalamin, an active form of B12 which supports brain development, was 10 times lower in healthy elderly individuals than healthy younger individuals. This reduction in methylcobalamin could also cause developmental problems in early life.
The team believe that oxidative stress, which is associated with autism, schizophrenia and aging, may underlie the reduction in B12 levels observed, and now hope to carry out further research to evaluate whether methylcobalamin supplements and some antioxidants could help in the prevention of oxidative stress and therefore the treatment of these psychiatric conditions.
“These are particularly significant findings because the differences we found in brain B12 with aging, autism and schizophrenia are not seen in the blood, which is where B12 levels are usually measured,” explained Richard Deth (Nova Southeastern University’s (NSU) College of Pharmacy; FL, USA). “The large deficits of brain B12 from individuals with autism and schizophrenia could help explain why patients suffering from these disorders experience neurological and neuropsychiatric symptoms.”
Sources: Nova Southeastern University press release via Newswire; Zhang Y et al. Decreased Brain Levels of Vitamin B12 in Aging, Autism and Schizophrenia. PLOS One 10.1371/journal.pone.0146797 (2016).