Brain area as­so­ci­a­tions

Dis­cov­ery of brain area as­so­ci­ated with au­di­tory hal­lu­ci­na­tions

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Naz Sutcuoglu Sci+tech Writer

In the United States, there are around 3.5 mil­lion peo­ple who suf­fer from schizophre­nia, around 20,000 of whom are home­less, and don’t have ac­cess to med­i­cal aid.

Con­tent warn­ing: men­tal ill­ness

Over the past ten years, the pub­lic has be­come in­creas­ingly aware of men­tal ill­ness and its im­pact on peo­ple’s lives. Sci­en­tific re­search has brought a new un­der­stand­ing of dis­or­ders that were a mys­tery to many. Men­tal dis­or­ders are very real and their ef­fects on one’s life are tremen­dous. Al­though the punch can­not be seen, the im­pact is there.

One type of men­tal ill­ness is schizophre­nia, a bio­chem­i­cal brain dis­or­der con­fuses a per­son’s re­al­ity with a fake one. The man­i­fes­ta­tion of schizophre­nia can greatly dif­fer among in­di­vid­u­als: some will only ex­pe­ri­ence one episode in their life, while oth­ers will ex­pe­ri­ence many more. There are also dif­fer­ent kinds of schizophre­nia rang­ing from acute to chronic. Au­di­tory hal­lu­ci­na­tions are one symp­tom that af­fect more than 70 per cent of peo­ple with schizophre­nia. Other symp­toms in­clude delu­sions, dis­torted think­ing, and so­cial with­drawal. There is no def­i­nite cure that will work for ev­ery pa­tient be­cause of the lack of knowl­edge con­cern­ing this dis­or­der.

Schizophre­nia af­fects men and women of var­i­ous ages. A spe­cific gen­der or age is not af­fected more than oth­ers. In the United States, there are around 3.5 mil­lion peo­ple who suf­fer from schizophre­nia, around 20, 000 of whom are home­less, and don’t have ac­cess to med­i­cal aid.

Peo­ple with schizophre­nia re­quire life­long treat­ments with a choice of var­i­ous an­tipsy­chotics, coun­sel­ing, or sup­port groups and homes. All an­tipsy­chotics avail­able come with a long list of side ef­fects, mak­ing pa­tients re­luc­tant to take them. Schizophre­nia was dis­cov­ered in the late 1800s but was not named un­til 1910, and was not taken se­ri­ously un­til quite some time fol­low­ing that. Only re­cently has re­search for dif­fer­ent treat­ments of schizophre­nia started. Re­cently, a French re­search group pre­sented a new find­ing on schizophre­nia to the Euro­pean Col­lege of Neu­ropsy­chophar­ma­col­ogy ( ECNP) Congress. Not only did they find the ex­act brain area re­spon­si­ble for au­di­tory hal­lu­ci­na­tion in schiz­o­phrenic pa­tients, they also fig­ured out how to im­prove this con­di­tion in most af­fected pa­tients.

Sonja Doll­fus, a pro­fes­sor of the Univer­sity of Caen, and her col­leagues made their dis­cov­ery by bring­ing a pre­vi­ously proven method into their hy­poth­e­sis for schizophre­nia treat­ment. Tran­scra­nial mag­netic stim­u­la­tion ( TMS) has been thought of be­fore as a treat­ment for psy­chi­atric con­di­tions and has been suc­cess­ful in other cases. How­ever, a lack of con­trolled tri­als of TMS were ap­plied to a part of the brain to aid in schiz­o­phrenic hal­lu­ci­na­tions. Doll­fus and oth­ers used this to cre­ate their hy­poth­e­sis that ap­ply­ing TMS to the tem­po­ral lobe would trig­ger hal­lu­ci­na­tions and would im­prove a pa­tient’s con­di­tions. In their clin­i­cal trial, 26 pa­tients re­ceived TMS treat­ment while 33 re­ceived a placebo treat­ment. Two weeks af­ter the trial, the pa­tients of both the con­trol and placebo group were ex­am­ined. The re­search group found that 34.6 per cent of the con­trol group showed a sig­nif­i­cant re­sponse whereas only 9.1 per cent of the placebo group re­sponded. Ac­cord­ing to ECNP, a sig­nif­i­cant re­sponse is any­thing above 30 per cent, mak­ing this find­ing even more im­pres­sive.

At the ECNP Congress, Doll­fus stated, “It seems that we now can say with some cer­tainty that we have found a spe­cific anatom­i­cal area of the brain as­so­ci­ated with au­di­tory ver­bal hal­lu­ci­na­tions in schizophre­nia . . . We have shown that treat­ment with high fre­quency TMS makes a dif­fer­ence to at least some suf­fer­ers, al­though there is a long way to go be­fore we will know if TMS is the best route to treat these pa­tients in the long- term.”

For fu­ture treat­ments, re­searchers should fully un­der­stand what the brain dis­or­der en­tails. Some­thing of this sig­nif­i­cance will have a great im­pact on the types of re­search that will fol­low and in­flu­ence their hy­pothe­ses. Know­ing the spe­cific part of the brain that’s as­so­ci­ated with hal­lu­ci­na­tions can bring re­searchers closer to un­der­stand­ing and de­vel­op­ing pre­cise treat­ments for hal­lu­ci­na­tions, and per­haps also other symp­toms af­fect­ing mil­lions of schiz­o­phrenic pa­tients to­day.

Claire Gre­nier | The Mcgill Daily

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