Novel study reveals schizophrenia affects the entire communications system of the brain

Written by Francis Davies

The largest study of differences in psychiatric disorder white matter to-date has displaced the theory that schizophrenia manifests due to wiring problems in the prefrontal and temporal lobes. Findings suggested frayed ‘ethernet chords’ appear throughout the brain, with particular prevalence in the corpus callosum and in the frontal portion of the corona radiata.
The researchers examined data from diffusion tensor imaging; these scans allow scientists to locate problem areas in the brain’s normally insulated communication system. The research was published recently in Molecular Psychiatry.

“We can definitively say for the first time that schizophrenia is a disorder where white matter wiring is frayed throughout the brain,” stated author, Sinead Kelly (Keck School of Medicine of USC, CA, USA).

Previous studies have not identified schizophrenia-associated brain regions uniformly, leading this team to come to a consensus by analyzing global brain scan data. While previous research typically included up to 100 people with schizophrenia, the researchers analyzed the data of 1963 people with schizophrenia and 2359 healthy controls from Australia, Asia, Europe, South Africa and North America.

The big data project was integrated from 29 international studies by the Enhancing Neuro Imaging Genetics through Meta Analysis (ENIGMA) network, previous publishers of the largest neuroimaging studies of autism, major depression and bipolar disorder using brain scans of more than 20,000 people.

Current treatment for schizophrenia can only address the symptoms as the causes of the disease remain unknown, leaving many patients taking antipsychotic drugs the rest of their lives, potentially causing a number of debilitating side effects. This study, in demonstrating the flaws in concentrating on specific regions of the brain, paves the way for more focused scientific inquiry, such as investigating the causes of white matter abnormalities or further research into the partial hereditary nature of this psychiatric disorder.

Sources: Kelly S, Jahanshad N, Zalesky A et al. Widespread white matter microstructural differences in schizophrenia across 4322 individuals: results from the ENIGMA Schizophrenia DTI Working Group. doi:10.1038/mp.2017.170 (2017) (Epub ahead of print);