A team of neuroscientists has discovered developmental differences in brain network function in children whose parents have schizophrenia when compared to those with no family history of mental illness.
The study, led by Vaibhav Diwadkar, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences and co-director of the Division of Brain Research and Imaging Neuroscience at Wayne State University School of Medicine, took place over three years, studying the brain function of young individuals in the Detroit area between the ages of 8 and 20.
Using fMRI, researchers studied the participant’s brain functions as they looked at pictures of human faces depicting positive, negative and neutral emotional expressions.
The researchers found that children at risk for schizophrenia are characterized by reduced network communication and disordered network responses to emotional faces.
“Brain network dysfunction associated with emotional processing is a potential predictor for the onset of emotional problems that may occur later in life and that are in turn associated with illnesses like schizophrenia,” Diwadkar said.
“If you clearly demonstrate there is something amiss in how the brain functions in children, there is something you can do about it. And that’s what we’re interested in.”
The results don’t show whether schizophrenia will eventually develop in the subjects.
“It doesn’t mean that they have it, or that they will have it,” he said. “The kids we studied were perfectly normal if you looked at them. By using functional brain imaging we are trying to get underneath behavior.
“We are able to do this because we can investigate dynamic changes in brain network function by assessing changes in the fMRI signal. This allowed us to capture dramatic differences in how regions in the brain network are interacting with each other.”
Source: Wayne State University