Severe Schizophrenia Causes Unique Difference In Brain Networks

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Individuals with severe cases of schizophrenia show significant differences in their brain networks compared to people with more mild cases of schizophrenia or individuals with bipolar disorder, according to a new study from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

Using a novel method of mapping brain networks, researchers from the Campbell Family Health Research Institute at CAMH found unique changes in the brain networks of only the individuals with the most severe cases of schizophrenia.

Finding ways to help this particular group of people with schizophrenia is a priority as recovery is unlikely, even up to 20 years after the initial diagnosis. Social isolation, lack of work and relationships, and chronic disability are very common,” writes Dr. Aristotle Voineskos, senior author on the paper and Director of the Slaight Family Centre for Youth in Transition at CAMH in the report published in JAMA Psychiatry.

Schizophrenia is predicted to affect one in 100 people, but only one in five of those with schizophrenia are likely to experience negative symptoms such as lack of motivation, social withdrawal, on top of characteristic symptoms like delusions and hallucinations.

Dr. Anne Wheeler, CAMH post-doctoral fellow says there is currently no treatment for negative symptoms, despite these symptoms having the most pronounced impact on a person’s daily life once psychosis is managed.

The researchers believe a biological indicator like the brain-based one suggested by these findings could greatly improve identification of this group of patients at the initial onset of symptoms, rather than after years of social disability.

This study used magnetic resonance brain imaging (MRI) to evaluate the brains of 128 people diagnosed with schizophrenia and 130 healthy control participants, along with 39 patients with bipolar disorder and another 43 healthy individuals at another test site. The bipolar disorder participants were recruited because bipolar disorder is also characterized by psychotic symptoms, but not negative symptoms.

The team also used a unique method called network analysis to assess the overall network density, or level of connectivity, in the brain.

“We found alterations in a number of relationships between brain regions among those with more severe schizophrenia compared with the other groups, including those with less severe schizophrenia,” says Dr. Voineskos. “This provides strong evidence that schizophrenia is not just one brain disorder.”

The researchers also say this study confirms past research from Voineskos indicating changes in the white matter tissue connecting those regions of the brain.

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