Brain signs of schizophrenia found in babies

June 21, 2010
The infant's brain image on left shows the larger lateral ventricles and a generally larger brain overall. Credit: Image provided by John Gilmore, MD.

Schizophrenia is a debilitating mental disorder affecting one in 100 people worldwide. Most cases aren't detected until a person starts experiencing symptoms like delusions and hallucinations as a teenager or adult. By that time, the disease has often progressed so far that it can be difficult to treat.

In a paper published recently online by the , researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Columbia University provide the first evidence that associated with risk are detectable in babies only a few weeks old.

"It allows us to start thinking about how we can identify kids at risk for schizophrenia very early and whether there things that we can do very early on to lessen the risk," said lead study author John H. Gilmore, MD, professor of psychiatry and director of the UNC Schizophrenia Research Center.

The scientists used ultrasound and MRI to examine in 26 babies born to mothers with schizophrenia. Having a first-degree relative with the disease raises a person's risk of schizophrenia to one in 10. Among boys, the high-risk babies had larger brains and larger lateral ventricles—fluid-filled spaces in the brain—than babies of mothers with no .

"Could it be that enlargement is an early marker of a brain that's going to be different?" Gilmore speculated. Larger in infants is also associated with autism.

The researchers found no difference in brain size among girls in the study. This fits the overall pattern of schizophrenia, which is more common, and often more severe, in males.

The findings do not necessarily mean the boys with larger brains will develop schizophrenia. Relatives of people with schizophrenia sometimes have subtle brain abnormalities but exhibit few or no symptoms.

"This is just the very beginning," said Gilmore. "We're following these children through childhood." The team will continue to measure the children's brains and will also track their language skills, motor skills and memory development. They will also continue to recruit women to the study to increase the sample size.

This research provides the first indication that brain abnormalities associated with schizophrenia can be detected early in life. Improving early detection could allow doctors to develop new approaches to prevent high-risk children from developing the disease. "The research will give us a better sense of when brain development becomes different," said Gilmore. "And that will help us target interventions."

Explore further: MRI may help predict schizophrenia

More information: The paper is available now online and will be published in the September issue of the journal.

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1 / 5 (2) Jun 21, 2010
Unless I don't understand something all this shows is some correlation between greater intelligence and risk of mental illness. This study sounds like a case of fitting your results to support your hypothesis.

Also, a general rule of thumb: When you don't know the cause of an illness, any anatomical variant, you will consider an abnormality.

The same thing that anthropologists declare with pride to be a hallmark of human evolutionary advantage, is - when it serves the purpose of a psychiatric or epidemiological study - the possible hallmark of disease.
1 / 5 (1) Jun 21, 2010
akot, who ever said a larger brain means a stronger intellect between two members of the same species?
4.5 / 5 (2) Jun 21, 2010
Unless I don't understand something all this shows is some correlation between greater intelligence and risk of mental illness.

akot, who ever said a larger brain means a stronger intellect between two members of the same species?

That's true, in general, although in the case of Kim Peek, his brain was larger than average and missing the corpus callossum. Einstein's brain was also missing the parietal operculum (which is linked with speech) and the sylvian fissure; "to compensate, the inferior parietal lobe was 15 percent wider than normal. The inferior parietal region is responsible for mathematical thought, visuospatial cognition, and imagery of movement." John Nash is/was schizophrenic.

"Individuals with youth-onset schizophrenia have severe cognitive deficits, whereas those with late-onset schizophrenia have some relatively preserved cognitive functions."
5 / 5 (1) Jun 22, 2010
akot, who ever said a larger brain means a stronger intellect between two members of the same species?

You're right, it's obviously a negative correlation.

Joking aside, there is research showing a causal relationship between larger brains and greater intellect, take a look on pubmed or sciencedirect.

Also, with regard to schizophrenics displaying statistically lower performance on IQ tests, well so do people who frequent the internet, but that doesn't mean they are less intelligent. In the latter case the 10 point average IQ drop is attributed to information overload, why could it not be a similar (but magnified) "disturbance" for schizophrenics? Some of the smartest people in history had DSM-IV classifiable bipolar or schizo.

The point is that when one leads with the assumption that schizophrenics are cognitively deficient due to biological abnormalities, they'll interpret all structural differences to fit that premise. That isn't science.

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