Study finds increased glutamate variability in schizophrenia patients

24 February 2023

A comprehensive meta-analysis, co-led by Dr Kate Merritt (UCL Psychiatry), has found glutamate variability in schizophrenia patients to be higher compared to the general population.  

Brain cell

Schizophrenia affects 1% of the population and causes substantial functional impairment to individuals and their families. Several lines of evidence indicate that the condition is associated with altered glutamate function. 

Glutamate is the major excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain, responsible for sending signals between nerve cells and stimulating the receptor into action. It plays a pivotal role in learning, memory and mood regulation. 

This meta-analysis, published in Molecular Psychiatry, used data from a pool of 8256 patients with schizophrenia and 7532 controls.  

Increased variability was evident in regions of the brain including the medial frontal cortex, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and thalamus. 

The findings could have implications on new drug therapies targeting glutamate dysfunction in schizophrenia, highlighting the need for a tailored approach that considers the glutamate levels of each patient. 

Co-lead researcher on the study, Dr Kate Merritt (UCL Psychiatry), said: 

“Glutamate may be a promising new drug target in schizophrenia, however a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach may not be suitable, as glutamate levels may vary between patients. For example, glutamate levels are reported to be higher in patients who do not respond to antipsychotic medication, whereas lower levels are reported in treatment responders. 

We found evidence of increased glutamate variability in patients, and this was seen in a number of brain regions, including the frontal cortex and thalamus. Our findings are relevant to the ongoing effort to develop novel drug therapies to target glutamate dysfunction in schizophrenia, and suggest that future drug trials may benefit from selecting participants based on their glutamate levels.”