Study Shows Chil­dren at Risk for Schizophre­nia have Dif­fer­ent Brain Func­tions

Wellness Update - - Health News -

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Re­search from the Univer­sity of North Carolina has shown that chil­dren at risk of de­vel­op­ing schizophre­nia have brains that func­tion dif­fer­ently than those not at risk. Brain scans of chil­dren who have par­ents or sib­lings with the ill­ness re­veal a neu­ral cir­cuitry that is hy­per­ac­ti­vated or stressed by tasks that peers with no fam­ily his­tory of the ill­ness seem to han­dle with ease. Be­cause th­ese dif­fer­ences in brain func­tion­ing ap­pear be­fore neu­ropsy­chi­atric symp­toms such as trou­ble fo­cus­ing, para­noid be­liefs, or hal­lu­ci­na­tions, the sci­en­tists be­lieve that the find­ing could point to early warn­ing signs or “vul­ner­a­bil­ity mark­ers” for schizophre­nia. In­di­vid­u­als who have a first-de­gree fam­ily mem­ber with schizophre­nia have an 8-fold to 12-fold in­creased risk of de­vel­op­ing the dis­ease. How­ever, there is no way of know­ing for cer­tain who will be­come schiz­o­phrenic un­til symp­toms arise and a di­ag­no­sis is reached. Some of the ear­li­est signs of schizophre­nia are a de­cline in ver­bal mem­ory, IQ, and other men­tal func­tions, which re­searchers be­lieve stem from an in­ef­fi­ciency in cor­ti­cal pro­cess­ing – the brain’s wan­ing abil­ity to tackle com­plex tasks. The study found cir­cuitry in­volved in emo­tion and higher or­der de­ci­sion­mak­ing was hy­per­ac­ti­vated in in­di­vid­u­als with a fam­ily his­tory of schizophre­nia, sug­gest­ing that the task was stress­ing out th­ese ar­eas of the brain in the study sub­jects. “This find­ing shows that th­ese re­gions are not ac­ti­vat­ing nor­mally,” said se­nior study author Ay­se­nil Bel­ger, PhD, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of psy­chi­a­try at the UNC School of Medicine. “We think that this hy­per­ac­ti­va­tion even­tu­ally dam­ages th­ese spe­cific ar­eas in the brain to the point that they be­come hy­poac­ti­vated in pa­tients, mean­ing that when the brain is asked to go into high gear it no longer can.” Bel­ger is cur­rently ex­plor­ing what kind of role stress plays in the chang­ing men­tal ca­pac­ity of ado­les­cents at high risk of de­vel­op­ing schizophre­nia. Though only a frac­tion of th­ese in­di­vid­u­als will be di­ag­nosed with schizophre­nia, Bel­ger thinks it is im­por­tant to pin­point the most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple early to ex­plore in­ter­ven­tions that may stave off the men­tal ill­ness. The U.S. re­mains on track to have the most re­ported per­tus­sis cases since 1959, with more than 32,000 cases al­ready re­ported along with 16 deaths, the ma­jor­ity of which are in in­fants.

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