Schizophrenia May Cause Brain Circuits to Go "Out of Tune"

Following close on the heels of other research into the multiple frequencies of brain signals, scientists at the University of California at San Diego have used electroencephalography to show that the firing of different neurons at different frequencies can create certain harmonic relationships between brain structures. Schizophrenia, they say, can then be seen as a result of those harmonics going “out of tune”.

Published in Biological Psychiatry, the findings show how the regular firing of brain cells can create a measurable electrical frequency, and if many cells routinely fire at different frequencies, they overlap to form “chords”, almost like music. For example, gamma activity, characterized by high electrical frequencies, could be seen as a high pitch, while theta waves would be low pitched. In the brain of a schizophrenia patient, then, what should be a consistent interplay of pitches becomes a disorganized mess of cells firing at the wrong pitches, volume, and rhythm.

The study focused on auditory stimuli, which, when presented to a healthy subject, triggered higher frequency oscillations and increased cross-phase synchrony (when gamma spikes at the same time as theta, for example). In schizophrenic patients, these responses were muted.

Future research is needed to determine causality. It is as yet uncertain whether the “mis-tuning” is caused by abnormal cortical function or schizophrenia somehow causes the degradation of neural harmonics. As scientists improve their understanding of the interconnectivity of brain structures and how they communicate, it will increase the number of therapeutic options to get cells firing in the right ways once again.

Source: Biological Psychiatry

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