Schizophrenia could be detected by testing human hair, scientists claim

Schizophrenia could one day be detected by testing human HAIR, scientists claim

  • Tests show patients with the mental health disorder have higher levels of MPST
  • Japanese researchers looked at mice, post-mortem samples and living humans
  • Around one in 100 people in the UK and US will suffer a schizophrenic episode 

Schizophrenia could one day be detected by testing human hair for levels of a certain enzyme, scientists have claimed.

Tests show patients with the severe mental health disorder have much higher levels of MPST, compared to those without.

The Japanese team now say looking for levels of the enzyme in hair could help spot the condition before patients suffer hallucinations.

And they say they are now testing whether drugs designed to tackle the production of the enzyme could alleviate symptoms in mice.

Tests show patients with the severe mental health disorder have much higher levels of MPST, compared to those without

Around one in 100 people in the UK and US will suffer a schizophrenic episode at some point in their lives, statistics show.

There is no test for the disorder. Most patients are diagnosed by mental health specialists after experiencing one or more symptoms for a month.


Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. 

People with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality.

The cause of schizophrenia is not understood and it is believed to be a mix of genetics (hereditary), abnormalities in brain chemistry and/or possible viral infections and immune disorders. 

Symptoms of schizophrenia usually begin between ages 16 and 30. In rare cases, children have schizophrenia too.

The symptoms of schizophrenia fall into three categories: positive, negative, and cognitive.   

Positive symptoms are disturbances that are ‘added’ to the person’s personality and include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Thought disorders (unusual or dysfunctional ways of thinking) 

Negative symptoms are capabilities that are ‘lost’ from the person’s personality and include: 

  • ‘Flat affect’ (reduced expression of emotions via facial expression or voice tone)
  • Reduced feelings of pleasure in everyday life
  • Difficultly beginning and sustaining activities 

Cognitive symptoms are changes in their memory or other aspects of thinking and include:

  • Trouble focusing or paying attention
  • Problems with ‘working memory’
  • Poor ability to understand information and use it to make decisions 

Figures suggest around one percent of the world population suffers from schizophrenia with around two million in the US.

Source: National Institute of Mental Health 

Symptoms include hallucinations, reduced feelings of pleasure and trouble focusing or paying attention.

Researchers at the RIKEN Center for Brain Science, on the outskirts of Tokyo, began by studying two groups of mice.

One of which had a low prepulse inhibition (PPI), a sign of schizophrenia. The other rodents were had a higher PPI – meaning bursts of noise startle them more.

Results showed mice with the tell-tale sign of the mental health condition expressed far more MPST, which produces hydrogen sulfide, in their brains.

Further results – published in EMBO Molecular Medicine – showed they also had much greater hydrogen sulfide levels.

Before looking at humans, Dr Takeo Yoshikawa and colleagues proved that MPST was to blame by analysing genetically-modified mice.

They then looked at MPST levels in post-mortem brain samples of patients with schizophrenia and compared them to unaffected people.

Levels appeared to correlate with the severity of symptoms, suggesting higher quantities may cause patients to suffer more hallucinations.

Dr Yoshikawa and colleagues then analysed hair follicles from 300 people, of which around half were known to have schizophrenia.

Similar to mice, expression of MPST was much higher in patients with the mental health disorder, compared to those without.

Further results then showed that hydrogen sulfide may permanently DNA and lead to ‘sulfide stress’-induced schizophrenia.

However, Dr Yoshikawa and colleagues were keen to point out that this does not cause every case of the mental health condition.

‘A new paradigm is needed for the development of novel drugs,’ he said, adding that out drugs may provide that opportunity.

‘Currently, about 30 per cent of patients with schizophrenia are resistant to dopamine D2-receptor antagonist therapy.

‘We are currently testing whether inhibiting the synthesis of hydrogen sulfide can alleviate symptoms in mouse models of schizophrenia.’