Friday, August 24, 2012

Recent Research on Schizophrenia Reveals How Little We Know

Over the past several weeks, several high profile studies on schizophrenia have been released, one of the most complex and confusing mental illnesses we can experience. Most simply, schizophrenia is characterized by disordered thinking and lack of affect regulation - this often manifests as auditory hallucinations, delusions (sometimes paranoid), or highly idiosyncratic speech (word salad) and cognition, along with considerable social or work dysfunction.

Age of onset is typically 15-35 (young adulthood), although I am reading about early-onset schizophrenia in children (a diagnosis I find troubling at best). Prevalence is about 1/2 to 1%. There is no "test" for the disease, so diagnosis is based on behavior and the patient's self-report.

So far, no single isolated organic, social, or environmental cause has been identified (duh!?). So these studies represent the latest efforts in trying to understand this disease (if it is an actual disease).

Schizophrenic Brains Try to Repair

Neuroscience Research Australia
Monday, 06 August 2012

Sashkinw_Neurons_iStock
Most neurons are found in tissue near the surface of the brain, but people with schizophrenia have a high density of neurons in deeper areas. The researchers suggest this is because the neurons are migrating towards the surface, where they are lacking, in response to the disease. Image: Sashkinw/iStockphoto

New NeuRA research shows that the brains of people with schizophrenia may attempt to repair damage caused by the disease, in another example of the adult brain’s capacity to change and grow.

Prof Cyndi Shannon Weickert, Dr Dipesh Joshi and colleagues from Neuroscience Research Australia studied the brains of people with schizophrenia and focussed on one of the hardest-hit regions, the orbitofrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain involved in regulating emotional and social behaviour.

Most neurons – brain cells that transmit information – are found in tissue near the surface of the brain. However, in the brains of people with schizophrenia, the team found a high density of neurons in deeper areas.
Read more.

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This is from PLoS ONE - just the abstract, the whole article is available by clicking on the title link.

Abnormal Neural Responses to Social Exclusion in Schizophrenia

Victoria B. Gradin1*, Gordon Waiter2, Poornima Kumar3, Catriona Stickle4, Maarten Milders5, Keith Matthews1, Ian Reid4, Jeremy Hall6, J. Douglas Steele1

1 Medical Research Institute, University of Dundee, Dundee, United Kingdom, 2 Biomedical Imaging Center, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, United Kingdom, 3 Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom, 4 Institute of Mental Health, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, United Kingdom, 5 Department of Psychology, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, United Kingdom, 6 Division of Psychiatry, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Abstract 

Social exclusion is an influential concept in politics, mental health and social psychology. Studies on healthy subjects have implicated the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), a region involved in emotional and social information processing, in neural responses to social exclusion. Impairments in social interactions are common in schizophrenia and are associated with reduced quality of life. Core symptoms such as delusions usually have a social content. However little is known about the neural underpinnings of social abnormalities. The aim of this study was to investigate the neural substrates of social exclusion in schizophrenia. Patients with schizophrenia and healthy controls underwent fMRI while participating in a popular social exclusion paradigm. This task involves passing a ‘ball’ between the participant and two cartoon representations of other subjects. The extent of social exclusion (ball not being passed to the participant) was parametrically varied throughout the task. Replicating previous findings, increasing social exclusion activated the mPFC in controls. In contrast, patients with schizophrenia failed to modulate mPFC responses with increasing exclusion. Furthermore, the blunted response to exclusion correlated with increased severity of positive symptoms. These data support the hypothesis that the neural response to social exclusion differs in schizophrenia, highlighting the mPFC as a potential substrate of impaired social interactions.

Full Citation:  
Gradin VB, Waiter G, Kumar P, Stickle C, Milders M, et al. (2012). Abnormal Neural Responses to Social Exclusion in Schizophrenia. PLoS ONE 7(8): e42608. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0042608

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Brain Abnormalities in Schizophrenia Due to Disease, Not Genetics

By Associate News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on August 3, 2012 
 
Brain Abnormalities in Schizophrenia Due to Disease, Not Genetics 

The brain differences found in people with schizophrenia are mainly the result of the disease itself or its treatment, as opposed to being caused by genetic factors, according to a Dutch study.
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“Our study did not find structural brain abnormalities in nonpsychotic siblings of patients with schizophrenia compared with healthy control subjects, using multiple imaging methods,” the team says.

“This suggests that the structural brain abnormalities found in patients are most likely related to the illness itself.”
 Read the whole article.

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Schizophrenia Linked to Inflammation in the Brain

By Associate News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on August 8, 2012 
 
Schizophrenia Linked to Inflammation in the Brain 

The brains of people with schizophrenia may be under attack by their own immune system, say Australian researchers, who are offering the strongest proof so far of an association between schizophrenia and an immune dysfunction.
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About 40 percent of people who suffer from schizophrenia have increased inflammation in an area of the brain called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex — a key brain region affected by the disease.

“To find this immune pattern in nearly half of people with schizophrenia raises the possibility that this is in fact a new root cause of the disease,” said senior author of the study, Cyndi Shannon Weickert, Ph.D., from Neuroscience Research Australia and UNSW.

Read more.

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Brain Hemispheres Out of Sync in Schizophrenia

By Associate News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on August 22, 2012
 
Brain Hemisphere Coordination Reduced in Schizophrenia

People with schizophrenia have significantly decreased interhemispheric coordination compared to those without the disorder, according to a new study.

Researchers discovered that interhemispheric connectivity was especially reduced in the occipital lobe, the thalamus and the cerebellum areas of patients with schizophrenia.
Read the whole article.


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Face in the Mirror More Distorted in Schizophrenia

By Associate News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on August 11, 2012 
 
Face in the Mirror More Distorted in Schizophrenia 

Individuals with schizophrenia experience more intense perceptual illusions while gazing into a mirror than do healthy people, according to a new study.

The new research also showed that patients with schizophrenia were more likely to believe the illusions they see in the mirror were real.

The research highlights the underlying ego dysfunction and body dysmorphic disorder found in schizophrenia.

According to the researchers, gazing at one’s own reflected face under low light can lead to ghostly experiences called “strange-face in the mirror” illusions. No study has previously focused on mirror gazing in schizophrenic patients, who already experience delirium, hallucination and self mis-attribution.

Read more.
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