Schizophrenia 'Map' Shows Link Between Symptoms and Brain Regions

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Researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine have developed a map, derived from brain images, that indicates how symptoms of schizophrenia are connected to specific parts of the brain.

Aysenil Belger, PhD, and colleagues compared brain scans from over 100 people with schizophrenia and compared them to healthy controls. The scans were taken when patients were asked to listen to tones and note changes in pitch. The images came from the Biomedical Informatics Research Network.

Participants with schizophrenia had significantly less brain acting in noticing the tonal changes compared to the control group, and the difference became more pronounced as the symptoms worsened, the researchers reported in the journal Molecular Neuropsychiatry.

When patterns of brain activity in patients with multiple “negative” symptoms of schizophrenia symptoms were analyzed, the researchers found different neural circuitry behind problems such as speech, blunted emotions, lack of motivation, and anhedonia.

The study indicates that certain symptoms are more closely associated with disruption in the brain's emotional processing areas, whereas others where more closely associated with regions responsible for language and motor control.

The researchers noted that if clinicians could use brain scans to identify high-risk individuals in early adolescence, it may be possible to curb the development of schizophrenia and help prevent its most debilitating effects.

brain mri
Analysis of brain activity in patients with multiple “negative” symptoms of schizophrenia symptoms showed different neural circuitry behind them.

Schizophrenia, a severe mental disorder affecting about one in 100 people, is notoriously difficult to diagnose and treat, in large part because it manifests differently in different people. A new study published today in Molecular Neuropsychiatry helps explain why. Researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine have created a map that shows how specific schizophrenia symptoms are linked to distinct brain circuits.

The findings add to a growing body of evidence that schizophrenia is not a single disease but a complex constellation of neural circuit problems. The study also reinforces the potential value of brain scans for identifying and understanding schizophrenia in individual patients, for finding promising new therapeutic approaches, and for helping clinicians track a patient's progress during therapy.

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