Abnormal Brain Wiring May Contribute To Schizophrenia Symptoms

For years, it has been apparent that the symptoms of schizophrenia may be partially explained by abnormal connectivity in the brain. Now, in the first study of its kind, researchers at Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC) have used Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to show that the brains of younger individuals who show only a few symptoms of schizophrenia are wired differently.

brain wiring“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 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. “

For the study, which was published in the journal Human Brain Mapping, the team used a specialized type of MRI scan to map the wiring of the brain of 123 people at greater risk for psychosis, and 125 people without greater risk to compare the differences.

When they reviewed the scans, they saw the brain network in people at high risk for schizophrenia showed reduced ability to transmit information and some information pathways had been rerouted. Most significantly, the researchers note this affected some central information hubs of the brain, which may contribute to larger 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.”

The authors say they hope the new information will help further the understanding of how the wiring of the brain may play a role in the development of the symptoms of schizophrenia, and potentially 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.”

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