An international team of researchers has linked specific symptoms of schizophrenia to different areas of the brain by using sophisticated brain-imaging techniques.
Experts believe the finding could be a significant advance for the diagnosis and treatment of schizophrenia.
By analyzing the brain’s anatomy, the scientists have demonstrated the existence of distinctive subgroups among patients diagnosed with schizophrenia, who suffer from different symptoms.
The research findings have been published in the academic journal NeuroImage.
For the study, researchers from the University of Granada, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of South Florida employed a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique called “diffusion tensor imaging” on 36 healthy subjects and 47 schizophrenic subjects.
The tests conducted on the schizophrenic subjects revealed that they had various abnormalities in certain parts of their corpus callosum, a bundle of neural fibers that connects the right and left cerebral hemispheres and is considered essential for effective interhemispheric communication.
When the researchers detected anomalies in the brain’s entire corpus callosum, they discovered that certain characteristic features revealed in the brain scans coincided with specific schizophrenic symptoms. For instance, patients with specific features in a particular part of the corpus callosum exhibited strange and disorganized behavior.
In other subjects, the irregularities observed in a different part of this brain structure were associated with disorganized thought and speech, and negative symptoms such as a lack of emotion. Other anomalies in the brain’s corpus callosum were associated with hallucinations.
In 2014, the same research group proved that schizophrenia is not a single illness. Rather, they demonstrated the existence of eight genetically distinct disorders, each of which has its own set of symptoms. In this study, University of Granada researchers Drs. Javier Arnedo and Igor Zwir, discovered that different sets of genes were strongly linked with different clinical symptoms.
Researchers say it is noteworthy to learn that schizophrenia is not a single illness.
As Zwir said, “The current study provides further evidence that schizophrenia is a heterogeneous group of disorders, as opposed to a single illness, as was previously thought to be case.”
Investigators believe that in the future, analysis of how specific gene networks are linked to specific brain features and individual symptoms, will be essential to help ensure that treatments are adapted effectively to each patient’s specific disorder.
Currently, treatments for schizophrenia tend to be generic, regardless of the symptoms exhibited by each individual patient.
In order to conduct the analysis of both the gene groups and brain scans, the researchers developed a new, complex analysis of the relationships between different types of data and recommendations concerning new data. Remarkably, the system is similar to that used by companies such as Netflix in order to determine the films they wish to broadcast.
Said Zwir, “To conduct the research, we did not begin by studying individuals who had certain schizophrenic symptoms in order to determine whether they had the corresponding brain anomalies.
“Instead, we first analyzed the data, and that’s how we discovered these patterns. This type of information, combined with data on the genetics of schizophrenia, will someday be of vital importance in helping doctors treat the disorders in a more precise and effective way.”