A new study may offer clues into how schizophrenia develops in the brain and how it may respond to treatment, according to findings published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry. The collaborative international study shows individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia may have smaller brain regions than individuals without mental illness.
For the study, scientists from over a dozen locations throughout the United States and Europe analyzed 2,028 MRI scans from individuals with schizophrenia, as well as 2,540 scans from healthy control participants.
The work was the product of the Enhancing Neuroimaging Genetics through Meta-Analysis project (ENIGMA), from the Schizophrenia Working Group. The Group is co-chaired by Dr. Jessica Turner, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Georgia State University, and Dr. Theo van Erp, assistant research professor in psychiatry at the University of California, Irvine.
“This is the largest structural brain meta-analysis to date in schizophrenia, and specifically, it is not a meta-analysis pulled only from the literature,” said Turner.
“Investigators dug into their desk drawers, including unpublished data to participate in these analyses. Everyone performed the same analyses using the same statistical models, and we combined the results. We then identified brain regions that differentiated patients from controls and ranked them according to their effect sizes.”
The findings showed individuals with schizophrenia have significantly smaller volume in the hippocampus, amygdala, thalamus, nucleus accumbens, and intracranial space than controls, and larger pallidum and ventricle volumes.
The researchers say the study demonstrates that collaborative data analysis can be effectively used across brain phenotypes and disorders, which encourages analysis and data-sharing efforts to more effectively study severe mental illness.
The researchers involved in the study say the next step is to compare the effects across disorders, to hopefully identify the brain region which is most affected in specific disorders, and to determine the effects of age, medication, environment, and symptom profiles across these disorders.
“There’s the increased possibility, not just because of the massive data sets, but also because of the collaborative brain power being applied here from around the world, that we will find something real and reliable that will change how we think about these disorders and what we can do about them,” Turner said.