Monday, September 6, 2010

The insanity virus

Schizophrenia has long been blamed on bad genes or even bad parents. Wrong, says a growing group of psychiatrists. The real culprit, they claim, is a virus that lives entwined in every person's DNA.

Steven and David Elmore were born identical twins, but their first days in this world could not have been more different. David came home from the hospital after a week. Steven, born four minutes later, stayed behind in the ICU. For a month he hovered near death in an incubator, wracked with fever from what doctors called a dangerous viral infection. Even after Steven recovered, he lagged behind his twin. He lay awake but rarely cried. When his mother smiled at him, he stared back with blank eyes rather than mirroring her smiles as David did. And for several years after the boys began walking, it was Steven who often lost his balance, falling against tables or smashing his lip.

Those early differences might have faded into distant memory, but they gained new significance in light of the twins’ subsequent lives. By the time Steven entered grade school, it appeared that he had hit his stride. The twins seemed to have equalized into the genetic carbon copies that they were: They wore the same shoulder-length, sandy-blond hair. They were both B+ students. They played basketball with the same friends. Steven Elmore had seemingly overcome his rough start. But then, at the age of 17, he began hearing voices.

The voices called from passing cars as Steven drove to work. They ridiculed his failure to find a girlfriend. Rolling up the car windows and blasting the radio did nothing to silence them. Other voices pursued Steven at home. Three voices called through the windows of his house: two angry men and one woman who begged the men to stop arguing. Another voice thrummed out of the stereo speakers, giving a running commentary on the songs of Steely Dan or Led Zeppelin, which Steven played at night after work. His nerves frayed and he broke down. Within weeks his outbursts landed him in a psychiatric hospital, where doctors determined he had schizophrenia.

The story of Steven and his twin reflects a long-standing mystery in schizophrenia, one of the most common mental diseases on earth, affecting about 1 percent of humanity. For a long time schizophrenia was commonly blamed on cold mothers. More recently it has been attributed to bad genes. Yet many key facts seem to contradict both interpretations.

Schizophrenia now seems so peculiar, in fact, that they have led a growing number of other scientists to abandon the traditional explanations of the disease and embrace a startling alternative. Schizophrenia, they say, does not begin as a psychological disease. Schizophrenia begins with an infection...

03-the-insanity-virus from - StumbleUpon.

Is it contagious? In one way, yes. This is from 2001:
A virus which hijacks part of the human genetic code may have some link to the mental illness schizophrenia. The retrovirus may have invaded human DNA millions of years ago and been carried down through generations, say scientists.

The experts believe that some activity from the retrovirus may have some unknown effect on the brain, perhaps contributing to a number of cases of schizophrenia. A study by a team from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore tested both diagnosed schizophrenics, and healthy volunteers for traces of the retrovirus.

They found an "unexpectedly" high level of the retroviral traces in cerebrospinal fluid taken from the schizophrenics, compared to very little in the other study subjects. ...

endogenous retroviruses, perpetuate themselves by mixing their code with the cells that are part of the "germ line"....

It can then be passed down to offspring, be present in every cell in their body, then proceed onwards down through the generations. - bbc

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