A new study suggests that brain network interactions between regions that support attention are dysfunctional in children and adolescents at genetic risk for developing schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
The study is significant because the estimated lifetime incidence of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder in the groups studied is approximately 10 to 20 times what is generally observed.
"We believe that genetic risk may confer vulnerability for dysfunctional brain network communication. This abnormal network communication in turn might amplify risk for psychiatric illnesses. By identifying markers of network dysfunction we believe we can elucidate these mechanisms of risk. This knowledge may in turn increase focus on possible premeditative intervention strategies," Vaibhav Diwadkar, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Wayne State University, said.
The study involved 46 children and adolescents aged 8 to 20 years, half of whom were at genetic risk for schizophrenia or bipolar disorder due to having one or both parents with either illness. Participants were asked to complete tasks that required sustained attention while undergoing 20 minutes of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
Among participants in the genetic risk group, interactions between the dorsal anterior cingulate and the basal ganglia were highly dysfunctional compared with the control group, the researchers found.
"Emergent patterns of regional dysfunction and dysconnection in cortical–striatal pathways may provide functional biological signatures in the adolescent risk-state for psychiatric illness," they wrote.
Attention deficits are central to psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, and are thought to precede the presentation of the illnesses.
Study findings published in Frontiers in Psychiatrysuggest that the brain network interactions between regions that support attention are dysfunctional in children and adolescents at genetic risk for developing schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.