Researchers at the Salk Institute may have new clues about schizophrenia after studying skin cells of individuals diagnosed with the disorder.

Using neurons generated from a patient’s skin cells, scientists were able to use new technology to regress those cells back to an earlier stem cell form. Those stem cells were then grown into very early stage neurons, called neural progenitor cells (NPCs). NPCs are similar to the cells in the brain of a developing fetus. Researchers documented these NPCs behaved strangely in the early stages of development, offering clues that may aid in earlier detection and treatment of schizophrenia. Until now, scientists have only been able to study the brains of cadavers, making it difficult to determine when in the developmental process changes began to occur to the brain.

The cells taken from people with schizophrenia differed in two ways: They had abnormal migration patterns and greater levels of oxidative stress. Researchers found that current antipsychotic medications, however, did not improve the migration patterns.

The study supports the idea that neurological dysfunctions that lead to schizophrenia may begin in the brain of a fetus.

The full results of the study are available in the April issue of Molecular Psychiatry.