Oxidative Stress in Mental Illness

A role for glutathione in the pathophysiology of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia? Animal models and relevance to clinical practice.

Abstract

The tripeptide, glutathione (gamma-glutamylcysteinylglycine) is the primary endogenous free radical scavenger in the human body. When glutathione (GSH) levels are reduced there is an increased potential for cellular oxidative stress, characterised by an increase and accruement of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Oxidative stress has been implicated in the pathology of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. This could partly be caused by alterations in dopaminergic and glutamatergic activity that are implicated in these illnesses. Glutamate and dopamine are highly redox reactive molecules and produce ROS during normal neurotransmission. Alterations to these neurotransmitter pathways may therefore increase the oxidative burden in the brain. Furthermore, mitochondrial dysfunction, as a source of oxidative stress, has been documented in both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The combination of altered neurotransmission and this mitochondrial dysfunction leading to oxidative damage may ultimately contribute to illness symptoms. Animal models have been established to investigate the involvement of glutathione depletion in aspects of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder to further characterise the role of oxidative stress in psychopathology. Stemming from preclinical evidence, clinical studies have recently shown antioxidant precursor treatment to be effective in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, providing a novel clinical angle to augment often suboptimal conventional treatments.

 Glutathione in the brain – as well as the rest of the body – can be increased by a number of OTC supplements, including n-acetylcysteine, whey protein, folate (esp. l-methylfolate), vitamin B12, and trimethylglycine.

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