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Dopamine related to brain dysfunction in prodromal psychosis

21 July 2010

Dr Paolo Fusar-Poli from the Institute of Psychiatry (IoP), at King’s led a team which addressed the role of neurochemicals and brain function in the prodromal phases, meaning that which precedes psychosis. The scientists used Positron Emission Tomography (PET), a neuroimaging technique, to investigate dopamine, a core brain neurotransmitter, which is thought to be abnormally elevated in psychosis and responsible for symptoms such as hallucinations or delusions. In addition, the researchers investigated brain functioning by employing a second neuroimaging technique, fMRI. This is the first time two separate imaging techniques have been combined to address the prodromal phases of psychosis.

Previous research has shown that subtle brain abnormalities are associated with cognitive and psychosocial impairments. For these reasons, over the past decade, psychiatrists have attempted to identify early neurobiological markers of the disease and to tailor preventive interventions accordingly.  Cognitive impairments during the prodromal phases have been associated with problems in brain functioning in particular, in the frontal regions of the cortex which are responsible of complex processes such as memory and planning. Dr Fusar-Poli highlighted that such cognitive impairments are related to dopamine alterations.

Dr Fusar-Poli said:  “We found that brain dysfunction in prodromal psychosis is related to dopamine alterations. These findings support the hypothesis that abnormal interactions between dopamine and brain function underlie the development of psychosis. These results have potential clinical implications. As the standard treatment for psychosis consists of medications called antipsychotics which normalise the dopaminergic alterations, the study provides a rationale for the use of antipsychotics in the prodromal phases to prevent some of the symptoms from developing.”

‘Abnormal frontostriatal interactions in people with prodromal signs in psychosis’ is published in the Archives of General Psychiatry in July.  To read the paper in full, please follow the link.



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