Scientists Explore Link Between Delusions and Brain Activity in Schizophrenic Patients

In a new study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), U.K., tests designed to trigger mild delusions caused increased activity in the brains of patients with schizophrenia, even when they weren't exhibiting delusional behavior. Researchers say it's an important step forward in our understanding of how the schizophrenic brain functions.

Fifteen healthy individuals and fourteen suffering from schizophrenia were placed in an MRI scanner and presented with a series of sixty statements. Twenty of these were personal statements, taken from previous interviews, while forty were designed to be generic. The statements were split between emotionally neutral ("He collects CDs") and loaded ("Everyone hates her"). The participants were then asked to identify whether each statement was about them personally.

The test was designed to induce what is called a delusion of reference, where a person feels that unrelated comments in newspaper articles or overheard conversations, for example, are actually about him. It occurs in about two thirds of schizophrenics. In the CAMH study, schizophrenics did have a harder time than the control at distinguishing whether a statement was generic, but the most surprising thing was what happened to their brains even when they got the question "right".

In many of the patients with schizophrenia, even when successfully answering "no" to a generic statement, certain areas of the brain lit up on the MRI, specifically the cortical midline structure such as the prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex. These regions regulate dopamine levels in the brain and are involved in reflective, emotional processing. Scientists interpret the results to show that even when a person with schizophrenia successfully determines that a statement is not about him (avoiding the reference delusion), he has a harder time doing so, requiring more introspective examination.

Source: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, U.K.

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