While some signs may suggest that a person is at risk of developing schizophrenia, a definitive diagnosis is not determined until the first psychotic episode occurs. But neuroscientists have now discovered an abnormal brain pattern that is linked to the development of schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that produces hallucinations, delusions and cognitive disorders. The disorder usually manifests in adolescence or early adulthood. The new research is expected to feed studies that test the use of cognitive behavioral therapy and neuronal feedback as early interventions to combat the symptoms of schizophrenia.
In the new study, MIT neuroscientists working with researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Shanghai Mental Health Center have now identified a pattern of brain activity related to the development of schizophrenia.
The researchers believe that the discovery of the abnormal brain pattern is used as a marker to diagnose schizophrenia before.
"You can consider this pattern as a risk factor. If we use these types of brain measurements, we may be able to predict a little better who will eventually develop psychosis, and that may also help to tailor interventions, "said Dr. Guusje Collin, lead author of the paper.
The study, which appears in the magazine. Molecular psychiatry, was held at the Shanghai Mental Health Center.
The researchers explain that before an individual experiences a psychotic episode, characterized by sudden changes in behavior and a loss of contact with reality, people may experience milder symptoms, such as disordered thinking.
This type of thinking can lead to behaviors such as jumping from one topic to another at random or giving answers not related to the original question. Previous studies have shown that approximately 25 percent of people who experience these early symptoms develop schizophrenia.
The researchers followed 158 people from 13 to 34 years of age who were identified as high risk because they had experienced early symptoms. The team also included 93 control subjects, who did not have any risk factors.
At the beginning of the study, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure a type of brain activity that involves "resting state networks." Rest state networks consist of regions of the brain that connect and communicate with each other preferentially when the brain is not performing any particular cognitive task.
"We were interested in looking at the intrinsic functional architecture of the brain to see if we could detect networks or early aberrant brain connectivity in individuals who are in the high clinical risk phase of the disorder," says Whitfield-Gabrieli.
One year after the initial scans, 23 of the high-risk patients had experienced a psychotic episode and had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. In the explorations of these patients, taken before their diagnosis, the researchers found a distinctive pattern of activity that was different from healthy control subjects and at-risk subjects who had not developed psychosis.
The researchers found that in most people, a part of the brain known as the superior temporal gyrus, involved in auditory processing, is highly connected to regions of the brain involved in sensory perception and motor control.
However, in the patients who developed psychosis, the upper temporal gyrus was more connected to the limbic regions, which are involved in the processing of emotions. According to the researchers, this may help explain why patients with schizophrenia often experience auditory hallucinations.
Meanwhile, high-risk subjects who did not develop psychosis showed network connectivity almost identical to that of healthy subjects.
Researchers believe that this type of distinctive brain activity could be useful as an early indicator of schizophrenia, especially because it is possible that it can be seen even in younger patients.
Source: MIT / EurekAlert