The cerebellum is one of the most affected brain regions in schizophrenia, according to a new brain imaging study at the University of Oslo in Norway. The findings show that the cerebellar volume in patients with schizophrenia is smaller than in healthy people.
The brain imaging study is the largest to date to focus on the cerebellum in schizophrenia and carries important implications for our understanding of the disorder.
Although the cerebellum occupies only about 20 percent of the human brain, it holds about 70 percent of all its neurons. The cerebellum has long been associated with body movement and coordination and so has rarely been included in studies focusing on the biological underpinnings of mental disorders.
For the study, researchers evaluated the brain scans of 2,300 participants from 14 international sites using sophisticated tools which allowed them to analyze both the volume and shape of the brain.
The researchers were surprised to find that the cerebellum was among the brain regions with the strongest and most consistent differences in schizophrenia. On a group level, schizophrenia patients had smaller cerebellar volumes compared with healthy individuals.
“These findings clearly show that the cerebellum plays a major role in schizophrenia,” said lead author Dr. Torgeir Moberget.
Most mental disorders tend to emerge during childhood and adolescence, and a better understanding of the causes may lead to better treatments and patient care.
“To develop treatments that could reverse or even prevent the disease we need to understand why some people are at risk of developing these serious illnesses in the first place,” said senior author Dr. Lars T. Westlye.
The large sets of data allowed the researchers to focus on the most subtle differences in brain volume in schizophrenia patients when compared with healthy controls.
“It is important to emphasize that the brain differences we see in schizophrenia are generally very subtle. This is one reason why large collaborative studies are so important,” Moberget says. “When we saw the same pattern repeated across many groups of patients and controls from different countries, the findings became much more convincing.”
Schizophrenia is a chronic debilitating mental disorder characterized by psychotic (positive) symptoms, such as delusions, hallucinations, paranoia and disordered thinking, as well as more subtle (negative) symptoms, such as loss of motivation or judgment, memory problems, slowed movement, disinterest in hygiene, and social withdrawal.
The findings are published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
Source: University of Oslo