A pair of research studies suggests progressive abnormalities in brain development can lead to schizophrenia in some individuals.
The research, published in Biological Psychiatry, states that some individuals are susceptible to abnormal brain development because of genetic deficiencies.
One paper studied individuals with a deletion of a small section of chromosome 22. This genetic deletion often results in the development of abnormalities in the structure of the heart and of the face, a condition called velocardiofacial syndrome (VCFS; also known as 22q11.2 deletion syndrome).
Up to 32 percent of people with VCFS develop psychotic disorders including schizophrenia, which occurs in 1 percent of the general population.
Wendy Kates, Ph.D., and her colleagues used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to show that during adolescence, progressive deficits in the volume of the temporal cortex gray matter were predictive of developing psychosis.
“Our findings suggest that in VCFS, brain changes during mid-adolescence, particularly in the temporal lobe, predict early signs of psychosis,” said Kates. “This suggests that it may be possible, eventually, to develop a screening tool that would identify those VCFS-affected youth who are at the highest risk for schizophrenia.”
In another paper, Andrew McIntosh, M.D., and colleagues report a similar pattern among adolescents and young adults who were followed over a 10-year period.
All of the young people were well at the beginning of the study, but some were at high genetic risk of developing schizophrenia due to having family members with schizophrenia.
“The participants were examined repeatedly by a psychiatrist and with structural brain scans to see if there were changes in brain structure in people who later became unwell,” explained McIntosh.
“At the end of the study, we found that there were accelerated reductions in the volume of particular brain structures in the people at high risk, and additional reductions in the volume of the frontal lobes in those people who later developed schizophrenia.”
The studies demonstrate that brain deficiencies may emerge as a result of progressive brain growth.
“These studies cannot define the specific changes at the cellular level and thus, we are limited in our capacity to make precise predictions based on these MRI data,” commented Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry.
“However, the findings suggest that schizophrenia is not simply a ‘scar’ but rather an ongoing brain process that might need to reach an as yet unclear stage where symptoms emerge. That being the case, there is hope that someday one might develop treatments that block this ‘disease process’ as we have been able to do for some other heritable brain diseases.”