Magnetic fields produced by the brain’s natural electrical currents may be used in the future as an objective test for schizophrenia, according to new research.
Schizophrenia is a rare but serious psychiatric disorder, usually beginning in late adolescence, and is characterized by a range of positive and negative symptoms, including hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, cognitive impairment, social withdrawal, self-neglect and loss of motivation and initiative.
Like for all mental disorders, there currently is no blood or laboratory test to confirm a diagnosis. Schizophrenia is currently diagnosed by clinicians who assess patients using a defined set of schizophrenia symptom criteria.
For the study, scientists from the University of Plymouth and Spain used the non-invasive magnetoencephalogram (MEG) procedure to discover two brain activity features that are significantly different in schizophrenia patients compared to healthy control subjects. Magnetoencephalography is a technology for mapping brain activity by recording magnetic fields produced by electrical currents occurring naturally in the brain, using very sensitive magnetometers.
Furthermore, they found that there were four features in the brain signals of schizophrenia patients that changed with age compared to healthy control subjects, suggesting that schizophrenia affects the way in which brain activity evolves with age.
“At present, there is no blood, cerebrospinal fluid, brain imaging or neurophysiological test for schizophrenia in routine clinical practice. The diagnosis relies on the interpretation of symptoms and clinical history according to consensus criteria,” said lead author Javier Escudero, Ph.D.
“The advent of an objective marker for schizophrenia would significantly facilitate the diagnosis and offer a better understanding of the neurobiological basis of the disease.”
The study involved 15 schizophrenia patients with positive symptoms and 17 age-matched healthy control subjects.
The researchers investigated whether the spectral features could be used to distinguish between schizophrenia patients and the healthy controls. They showed that they were able to classify patients with 71 percent accuracy.
“The long-term vision is to develop a low-cost, non-invasive and objective test to aid the diagnosis of this and other brain diseases. The magnetoencephalogram is able to provide very detailed information about the brain activity; however, it is expensive,” said Escudero. “Therefore, we aim to transfer these developments to electroencephalogram recordings in the future, as this technique meets those requirements of reduced cost, high availability and non-invasiveness.”
Source: Physiological Measurement