Detecting Schizophrenia Risk in Infants


Schizophrenia, one of the most serious psychiatric disorders, afflicts approximately 1% of the population. Researchers have long been looking for indicators that would help prevent the development of the illness, or at least allow early intervention.

A recent study published in the online version of the American Journal of Psychiatry suggests that the risk for schizophrenia may be detected in very young infants. By looking at the brain development of 26 high risk infants (infants born to schizophrenic mothers), they noted two differences – bigger lateral ventricles and larger brain size – when compared to the brains of infants born to mothers with no psychiatric disorders. MRI scans and ultrasound were used to measure brain development.

If schizophrenia risk can be detected at a very early age, then experts may be able to find ways to prevent it from developing or decrease its severity should it develop. This is particularly important because schizophrenic symptoms typically don’t appear until adolescence or early adulthood.

Another important finding in the study was that the larger brains were found in the high risk male infants, but not in the high risk female infants. Schizophrenia afflicts more males than females, so this finding fits that pattern. Prior research has noted a connection between autism and bigger brains in babies.

According to John H. Gilmore, MD, who headed the study, more research will need to be done. They will be following these babies throughout their childhood to take periodical brain measurements, as well as monitoring their language, memory, and motor development.