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Could brain scans help predict schizophrenia?

Posted on 18/05/2015

New scanning methods which map the wiring of the brain could provide a valuable new tool to predict people at risk of schizophrenia, according to new research from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC) and the University of Bristol.
Scientists have long known that the symptoms of schizophrenia are partly explained by disordered connectivity in the brain. For the first time, this study used Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to identify how the brains of young people, who have some of the symptoms of schizophrenia, are wired differently.
Using a specific type of MRI scan which maps the wiring of the brain, the team scanned 123 people who have vulnerability to psychosis, and 125 people without vulnerability and compared the differences in the wiring of their brains.
The results, published in the journal Human Brain Mapping, showed the ability of the brain network in people vulnerable to schizophrenia to transmit information from one region to another was reduced and some information pathways were rerouted.
Crucially, the team found that this affected certain central information hubs of the brain, which could lead to widespread problems in information processing in a similar way to schizophrenia.

Professor Anthony David, Vice-Dean of Academic Psychiatry and Professor of Cognitive Neuropsychiatry at the IoPPN, said: 'Understanding the way people’s brains become misconnected or connected less efficiently is crucial to understanding the illness.
'What we would like to find out is why for some people, these changes progress while in others they don’t - that’s the next challenge.'
Cardiff University’s Dr Mark Drakesmith, who led the research, said: 'The changes we’ve identified in the brain networks are extremely subtle.
'However, using a specific type of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) which maps the wiring of the brain, we have made some key discoveries that would not have been detected using more established brain imaging techniques.
'The technique employs a branch of mathematics called ‘graph theory’, which allows us to examine complex architectural features of networks, such as efficiency of information transfer. This approach is traditionally used in computer science, but is now giving neuroscientists and psychiatrists new insights into how configurations of brain networks are altered in mental illness.'
Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder, which causes hallucinations, delusions and disordered thought. It is a relapsing and remitting condition which can be controlled with medication.
Nevertheless, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that schizophrenic disorders affect around 26 million people worldwide and result in moderate or severe disability in 60 per cent of cases.
The research team hope their new analysis could provide a valuable insight into how the wiring of the brain gives rise to symptoms of schizophrenia, and crucially, offer a new tool for predicting future illness.

Notes to editors

Jones DK et al (2015) 'Schizophrenia-like topological changes in the structural connectome of individuals with subclinical psychotic experiences'. Human Brain Mapping doi: 10.1002/hbm.22796

For further media information please contact Jack Stonebridge, Press Officer, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London (+44) 020 7848 5377.

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