The brains of patients with schizophrenia may be trying to reorganize and fight the illness, according to a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) study conducted by an international team of scientists. This is the first time that imaging data has been used to show how our brains may have the ability to reverse the effects of schizophrenia.
Although schizophrenia is generally associated with a widespread reduction in brain tissue volume, the new findings reveal a subtle and simultaneous increase in brain tissue in certain regions.
The researchers followed 98 patients with schizophrenia and compared them to 83 patients without schizophrenia. Using MRI and a statistical approach called covariance analysis, the research team measured any increases in brain tissue. Due to the subtlety and the distributed nature of increase, this has not been demonstrated in patients until now.
According to Lawson Health Research Institute’s Dr. Lena Palaniyappan, there is an overarching feeling that curing people with a severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia, is not possible. This stems from the long-held notion that schizophrenia is a degenerative illness, with the seeds of damage sown very early during the course of brain development.
“Even the state-of-art frontline treatments aim merely for a reduction rather than a reversal of the cognitive and functional deficits caused by the illness,” said Palaniyappan, medical director at the Prevention & Early Intervention Program for Psychoses (PEPP) at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC).
“Our results highlight that despite the severity of tissue damage, the brain of a patient with schizophrenia is constantly attempting to reorganize itself, possibly to rescue itself or limit the damage,” said Palaniyappan.
The next step is to study the evolution of this brain tissue reorganization process by repeatedly scanning individual patients with early schizophrenia and to investigate the effect of this reorganization on their recovery.
“These findings are important not only because of their novelty and the rigour of the study, but because they point the way to the development of targeted treatments that potentially could better address some of the core pathology in schizophrenia,” said Dr. Jeffrey Reiss, Site Chief, Psychiatry, LHSC.
The project is part of an international collaboration among scientists in Nottingham, UK, Shanghai and Changsha, People’s Republic of China, Robarts Research Institutes at Western University and Lawson Health Research Institute.
The study is published online in the journal Psychology Medicine.
Source: Lawson Health Research Institute