Consumption of choline supplements during pregnancy could be a new approach to the prevention of schizophrenia, suggest researchers.
Taking supplements containing the essential nutrient choline during the last two trimesters of pregnancy and in early infancy could help to lower the rate of children developing physiological schizophrenic risk factors in infants, say US researchers writing in The American Journal of Psychiatry.
Led by Dr Robert Freedman from the University of Colorado School of Medicine, the research team investigated whether perinatal choline supplementation improves the development of cerebral inhibition in infants, finding that mothers who consumed the nutrient were less likely to have children with early risk factors for the development of schizophrenia in later life.
"Genes associated with schizophrenia are common, so prevention has to be applied to the entire population, and it has to be safe,” explained the researchers. “Basic research indicates that choline supplementation during pregnancy facilitates cognitive functioning in offspring.”
“Our finding that it ameliorates some of the pathophysiology associated with risk for schizophrenia now requires longer-term follow-up to assess whether it decreases risk for the later development of illness as well."
The team explained that in normal circumstances, the brain responds fully to an initial clicking sound but inhibits its response to a second click that follows immediately. However, in schizophrenia patients, deficient inhibition is common and is related to poor sensory filtering and familial transmission of schizophrenia risk.
Since schizophrenia does not usually appear until adolescence, this trait—measurable in infancy—was chosen to represent the illness.
Freedman and his colleagues conducted a randomised placebo-controlled clinical trial of dietary phosphatidylcholine supplementation in 100 healthy pregnant women, starting in the second trimester.
Half the healthy pregnant women were given 3,600 milligrams of phosphatidylcholine each morning and 2,700 milligrams each evening; while the other half took placebo.
After delivery, their infants received 100 milligrams of phosphatidylcholine per day or placebo.
Eighty-six percent of infants exposed to pre- and postnatal choline supplementation, compared to 43% of unexposed infants, inhibited the response to repeated sounds, as measured with EEG sensors placed on the baby's head during sleep.
The authors suggested that the study findings break new ground both in its potentially therapeutic findings and in its strategy to target markers of schizophrenia long before the illness itself actually appears.
Source: The American Journal of Psychiatry
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2012.12070940
“Perinatal Choline Effects on Neonatal Pathophysiology Related to Later Schizophrenia Risk”
Authors: Randal G. Ross, Sharon K. Hunter, Lizbeth McCarthy, Julie Beuler, et al