Children at Risk for Schizophrenia Have More Disordered Brains

A recent study comparing the brains of children of schizophrenic parents to the brains of children with no family history of schizophrenia has shed new light on the earliest stages of the disease. The findings, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, show that vulnerable children have structurally disordered brains, a result which may improve diagnosticians' ability to predict a child's susceptibility to the disease.

For over three years, researchers at Harper University Hospital in Detroit used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to analyze brain function in young people from 8 to 20 years of age. The participants were shown images of human faces showing a variety of emotional states, with scientists hypothesizing that differences in a person's ability to process emotion-based input would be a reliable predictor for schizophrenia.

Of particular interest was the way different areas of the brain communicated with each other. The study showed that at-risk children of patients had measurably lower inter-network connectivity and more disordered network responses to the emotional imagery.

The researchers do emphasize that they cannot conclude that these children are bound to end up with schizophrenia or any emotional disorder, but are only trying to understand the deeper, underlying structural differences that set children of patients apart. Many problems can be more effectively addressed if they are uncovered in children, and the researchers believe their work justifies keeping a closer eye on this potentially at-risk population.

Source: Archives of General Psychiatry

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