Brain Network May Leave Us Vulnerable To Schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s Disease

pic1New research published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests the brain has a weak spot for disease which leaves us vulnerable to conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia.

Using magnetic resonance imaging, the team from the University of Oxford evaluated the brain structure in 484 healthy people between the ages of 8 and 85. They utilized the wide collection of individuals to study age-related changes and patterns in the brain.

The scans showed a grey matter brain network that develops later than the rest of the brain and is the first to degenerate or decline in aging individuals. Grey brain matter has long been associated with age-related neurodegeneration, however this study is the first to pinpoint it as more vulnerable than other brain networks.

“Our results show that the same specific parts of the brain not only develop more slowly, but also degenerate faster than other parts,” said Dr. Gwenaëlle Douaud, lead study author of Oxford University’s Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain, in a press release. “These complex regions, which combine information coming from various senses, seem to be more vulnerable than the rest of the brain to both schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s, even though these two diseases have different origins and appear at very different, almost opposite, times of life.”

When Douaud’s team compared these scans to those of individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia, they saw extensive similarities, which indicates that certain regions of the brain play a role in the emergence of these conditions, despite the differences in their characteristics.

Interestingly, Medical Daily mentions schizophrenia was considered “premature dementia” in earlier years, Hugh Perry, chairman of the MRC’s Neurosciences and Mental Health Board, said. A 2001 study in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry found schizophrenia patients experienced symptoms normally pointing to dementia, including disorientation, poor intellectual performance, and incontinence.

“This large-scale and detailed study provides an important, and previously missing, link between development, aging, and disease processes in the brain,” Perry said. “It raises important issues about possible genetic and environmental factors that may occur in early life and then have lifelong consequences. The more we can find out about these very difficult disorders, the closer we will come to helping sufferers and their families.”

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