Scientists have long known that the symptoms of schizophrenia can be partly explained by abnormal connectivity in the brain. In the first study of its kind, researchers have used Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to identify how the brains of young people, who exhibit only some symptoms of schizophrenia, are wired differently.
“We already know that the brains of people with schizophrenia are wired differently and are less efficient than healthy people,” says Professor Derek Jones, Director of Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC).
“However, until now, no study has tried to use this information to look at healthy individuals with some of the same symptoms but without actually having the condition.”
Using a specific type of MRI scan which maps the wiring of the brain, the researchers analyzed the brains of 123 people at greater risk for psychosis, and 125 people without greater risk and compared the differences in the wiring of their brains.
They discovered that the ability of the brain network in people vulnerable to schizophrenia was reduced in its ability to transmit information, and they also found that some information pathways were rerouted.
Importantly, the researchers 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.
“The changes we’ve identified in the brain networks are extremely subtle,” says study leader Dr. Mark Drakesmith of Cardiff University. “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 is characterized by hallucinations, delusions and disordered thought. It is a relapsing and remitting condition often controlled with medication.
The team hopes their new analysis will shed some light into how the wiring of the brain gives rise to symptoms of schizophrenia, and crucially, offer a new tool for predicting future illness.
“Understanding the way people’s brains become misconnected or connected less efficiently is crucial to understanding the illness,” says Professor Anthony David from Kings College London.
“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.”
The findings are published in the journal Human Brain Mapping.
Source: Cardiff University