Sunday, December 9, 2007

Mitochondrial Dysfunction & Psychiatric Symptoms

Nerves and muscles require a lot of energy and are quite vulnerable to disruptions in their metabolic needs.

Most people who have heard about genetic defects causing mitochondrial dysfunction are probably most familiar with MELAS.

MELAS is caused by a defect in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), responsible for oxidative metabolism and generating energy to the central nervous system (including the brain) and to the muscles.

MELAS stands for "Mitochondrial Encephalomyopathy And Strokes".
Encephalo refers to the brain.
Myo refers to the muscles.

It can cause blindness, strokes, cognitive problems, muscle wasting and death. But because the number of mitochondria affected can vary -- as well as the random groupings of them in the body and the severity of the defects -- the severity of the problems and which body systems are affected, can vary.

A few other encephalomyopathies related to mitochondrial dysfunction, are Kearns-Sayre syndrome (KSS), myoclonus epilepsy and ragged red fibres syndrome (MERRF).

There are also regular (nuclear) DNA defects that can affect the functioning of mitochondria.

Something to keep in mind is that for some families and some individuals, the ONLY symptom of an inherited mitochondrial defect is in the manifestation of "psychiatric" symptoms that may be diagnosed as "Schizophrenia" or a related disorder [1].

Others may have the "psychiatric" symptoms as well as multiple other symptoms of oxidative stress, aging, weakness, etc, but not so severe that doctors would commence a very complicated, painful, and expensive search for a hereditary problem affecting the mitochondria.

The next thing to keep in mind is that even when starting out with healthy functioning mitochondria, a person's mitochondria can become dysfunctional over time. The severe stress from other illnesses, physical or psychic traumas, symptoms, the person's own biological wiring (how they react to stressors) and even individual variations which we do not fully understand, can all cause oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunctions.

What is scary is that this oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction can further compromise the functioning of the brain. So... dysfunction of the mitochondria can cause stressful symptoms causing further deterioration of the mitochondrial functioning.

The hallucinatory, cognitive, sleep, and delusional symptoms of "schizophrenia" can be horrifically stressful. Since "schizophrenia" is considered a "mental" disorder, the resulting stress from those symptoms would essentially be considered self-inflicted, as opposed to the stress from, say... severe burns causing the mitochondrial dysfunction.

Mitochondrial dysfunctions can cause physical illnesses being called "schizophrenia", or the "mental" illness called schizophrenia can result in mitochondrial dysfunction.

Either way, a mountain of studies show there IS usually mitochondrial dysfunction associated with the illness diagnosed as "schizophrenia", regardless of etiology.

Doctors generally do not treat for the mitochondrial dysfunctions so frequently associated with "psychiatric" illnesses. Researchers, so far, are just studying it, and some companies are investigating tests (metabolomic and proteomic tests) that will measure it. Integrative medical and anti-aging specialists, however, are quite familiar with some methods of treatment, as are specialists in mitochondrial dysfunctions (such as MELAS).

Here is a website for more information on the topic of symptoms, misdiagnosis, and how individualized symptoms are: MitoAction

Here are just a few of the many research studies about mitochondrial dysfunction and these "mental" illnesses.
Link to information about metabolomics: Metabolic Profiling of Patients with Schizophrenia
[1] Autosomal dominant psychiatric disorders and mitochondrial DNA multiple deletions: Report of a family Journal of Affective Disorders 2002, Jun 21
(This research warns that mitochondrial diseases should be kept in mind in patients with a family history of "psychiatric problems" even in the absense of other signs of a mitochondrial disease.)

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Last Updated:
16 November 2011


Miranda said...

THANK YOU for starting up this discussion. It is about time for a website like this. I wish you had a discussion board for us.

The 2007 article by Mancuso et al should underscore the fact that in an extended family history of symptoms (whether that is in the brain or elsewhere), a genetic problem, mitochondrial or nuclear, should be suspected.

That seems like such a no-brainer, but who will pay for researching each family's case? I think we are about many decades away from figuring out which particular genes are responsible for which problems in each family. That's sad. We have wasted so much time with Freudian psychology.

Herb said...

I personally feel that the link between mitochondrial dysfunction and "psychiatric" symptoms may turn out to be extremely important and deserves much research. I hope that genetic research takes into account the fact that research into mitochondrial DNA now takes on a special importance. As all mitochondrial DNA is passed on by only one of the parents, there is no mitigating allele if a mutation occurs. It is also possible that some of the environmental factors such as infection cause mutations to the mitochondrial DNA.

Jeanie said...

It has been a while since I posted this article, but in the intervening years, this topic has only become increasingly relevant.

So many people I talk to have said their child lacked energy BEFORE getting on psychiatric meds, so they cannot completely blame the meds for the fatigue.

I know in my younger daughter's case, treatment for mitochondrial dysfunction, in particular, the use of a highly absorbable form of CoQ-10 has worked a minor miracle.

I've added a link to a webpage with symptoms. Every time I read about them, I feel rather stunned at how many she has and had.

And it is very sad that in spite of all the research about mitochondrial dysfunction in these severe psychiatric diagnoses, the psychiatrists are not TREATING them -- not even telling the patients about them!

Herb said...

Almost 3 years ago, I posted a comment to the effect that research into mitochondrial DNA would take on a special importance. Recently, a link between mutations in mitochondrial DNA and cancer has been found. Although too early to tell what the cause and effect relationship is, it does reinforce the view as to the importance of research into the field. If mutations of the DNA of our mitochondria might be involved in cancer, what other mischief it might be involved with.