Since 2007, scientists announced plans for a Human Microbiome Project to catalog the micro-organisms living in our body, and because of this project, a new body of research has had a profound influence on how such organisms affect our health. From this growing research, one study has found a possible link between throat microbes and schizophrenia, and this link could explain the etiology, that is, the causes, behind this neuropsychiatric disorder, and thus pave a way for new treatments.

In this peer-review study conducted at George Washington University in Washington, DC, and published in the journal PeerJ, researchers looked at the levels of fungi, bacteria and virus microbes in the oropharynx region of the throat. The reason for choosing this region, according to the head author Eduardo Castro-Nallar, is that the oropharynx region appears to contain different levels of oral bacteria in people with schizophrenia compared to people who don’t have the disorder. “Specifically, our analyses revealed an association between microbes such as lactic acid bacteria and schizophrenics,” he says.

A growing number of studies have demonstrated that the microbiome—the ecological community of viruses, bacteria and fungi found living on and within the human body—has recently been conntected to brain development, behavior and cognition.

Several studies published in Medical News Today and the New York Times have reported on how gut microbiome can reduce cognitive functioning and affect psychological moods and states such as anxiety and depression.

New research on our body’s microbiome—especially how it affects cognitive development and moods—is becoming more and more exciting in medicine. The link between throat bacteria and schizophrenia is one clear example of what’s happening with connecting the microbiome to health issues. Hopefully, more of this research will lead to improved sinusitis and some forms of sleep apnea.

This new study examined the complete microbiome by looking at viruses, bacteria and fungi present in 16 individuals with schizophrenia and 16 control participants. The researchers reported significant differences between the microbiome of schizophrenia patients and those of the control participants. The control participants were richer in microbe species but less even in their distribution than the participants with schizophrenia.

What this means is that evidence of the fungal species Candida dubliniensis was more evident in participants with schizophrenia, and the researchers suggested that this fungus may be connected with immune response problems. One lead researcher mentioned the importance of further and wider studies though.

“Our results suggesting a link between microbiome diversity and schizophrenia require replication and expansion to a broader number of individuals for further validation,” reports Keith Crandall, director of the Computational Biology Institute at George Washington University. He further explained, “But the results are quite intriguing and suggest potential applications of biomarkers for diagnosis of schizophrenia and important metabolic pathways associated with the disease.”

The researchers concluded that their findings were extremely important to understanding not only schizophrenia but also how our microbiome in the body affects cognitive development and other behavioral issues. Yet more research with diverse samples, such as in the gut microbiome, will be able to shed more light on the potential links between schizophrenia and these microbes.