By using magnetic resonance imaging technology and an improved, detailed analysis method, a team of scientists from the United Kingdom and China has found that brains of patients with schizophrenia may be trying to reorganize and fight the illness.
This is the first time that imaging has been used to show that our brains may have the ability to self-reverse the effects of schizophrenia. Generally, schizophrenia is associated with a widespread reduction in brain tissue volume.
But this study revealed that a subtle increase in tissue also happens in certain brain regions.
Following 98 patients with schizophrenia, the study compared them to 83 patients without schizophrenia. The team used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and a sophisticated approach called covariance analysis to record the amount of brain tissue increase.
Due to the subtlety and the distributed nature of the increase, this had not previously been detected in patients.
“Even the state-of-art frontline treatments aim merely for a reduction rather than a reversal of the cognitive and functional deficits caused by the illness,”
says Dr. Lena Palaniyappan, Medical Director at the Prevention & Early Intervention Program for Psychoses at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC). According to Dr. Palaniyappan, there is an overarching feeling that curing people with a severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia is not possible.
This stems from a long-standing model that schizophrenia may be a degenerative illness, with the seeds of damage sown very early during the course of brain development.
“Our results highlight that despite the severity of tissue damage, the brain of a patient with schizophrenia is constantly attempting to reorganize itself, possibly to rescue itself or limit the damage,” she adds.
Dr. Jeffrey Reiss, another member of the research team from the London health Sciences Centre, explains:
“These findings are important not only because of their novelty and the rigor of the study, but because they point the way to the development of targeted treatments that potentially could better address some of the core pathology in schizophrenia.
Brain plasticity and the development of related therapies would contribute to a new optimism in an illness that was 100 years ago described as premature dementia for its seemingly progressive deterioration.”
The team’s next step will be to clarify the evolution of this brain tissue reorganization process by repeatedly scanning individual patients with early schizophrenia and study the effect of this reorganization on their recovery.
S. Guo, L. Palaniyappan, P. F. Liddle, J. Feng
Dynamic cerebral reorganization in the pathophysiology of schizophrenia: a MRI-derived cortical thickness study
Psychological Medicine, 2016; 1 DOI: 10.1017/S0033291716000994
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