A new study by researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry (IoP), King's College London has discovered abnormalities in the white matter of the brain that seem to be critical for the timing of schizophrenia. The study, led by Professor Phillip McGuire and Dr Sophia Frangou, has been published in this month's edition of the British Journal of Psychiatry.
The white matter of the brain consists of nerve fibres that connect parts of the brain and help regulate behaviour. The normal brain develops in a back to front fashion, i.e. posterior regions mature first and the frontal lobes last. The research discovered that if there are very severe deficits in the white matter in these posterior (specifically parietal) regions, then schizophrenia develops early in adolescence. As people grow older their deficits "migrate" in a back to front manner and in adulthood, they impact the frontal lobes of the brain quite dramatically.
Schizophrenia is a disabling and emotionally devastating illness that affects about one per cent of the population worldwide. Professor McGuire, from the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre for Mental Health, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and IoP comments: 'Although we can trace the origins of schizophrenia to early brain development we still do not know what triggers the onset of the full blown symptoms. Our study suggests that at least part of the answer lies in problems affecting the "wiring" of key brain areas.'
The team used Diffusion Tensor Imaging, a state-of-the-art neuro-imaging technique, to examine white matter connections in adolescents and adults with schizophrenia. Abnormalities in white matter appeared first in posterior parts of the brain in the younger patients and became more prominent in the frontal lobes in adult patients. In interpreting the results, Dr. Kyriakopoulos, the lead author, explained that the scans capture the interaction between brain development and disease mechanisms.
Dr Frangou on the value of this research: 'We believe this study is unique as it approaches schizophrenia research from a new perspective. It takes a life-long view on schizophrenia and thereby bridges traditional barriers between child and adult patients.'
The study adds new insight to mounting evidence that abnormalities in white matter play a critical role in what turns schizophrenia on and may provide clues to new treatments.
Notes to editors
Marinos Kyriakopoulos, Rocio Perez-Iglesias, James B Woolley, Richard AA Kanaan, Nora S Vyas, Gareth J Barker, Sophia Frangou and Philip K McGuire (all from the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London): Effect of age at onset of schizophrenia on white matter abnormalities. The British Journal of Psychiatry (2009) 195, p346-353.
The full article is available through the website of the British Journal of Psychiatry at: http://bjp.rcpsych.org/cgi/content/abstract/195/4/346.
King's College London
King's College London is one of the top 25 universities in the world (Times Higher Education 2009) and the fourth oldest in England. A research-led university based in the heart of London, King's has more than 21,000 students from nearly 140 countries, and more than 5,700 employees. King's is in the second phase of a £1 billion redevelopment programme which is transforming its estate.
King's has an outstanding reputation for providing world-class teaching and cutting-edge research. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise for British universities, 23 departments were ranked in the top quartile of British universities; over half of our academic staff work in departments that are in the top 10 per cent in the UK in their field and can thus be classed as world leading. The College is in the top seven UK universities for research earnings and has an overall annual income of nearly £450 million.
King's has a particularly distinguished reputation in the humanities, law, the sciences (including a wide range of health areas such as psychiatry, medicine and dentistry) and social sciences including international affairs. It has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA and research that led to the development of radio, television, mobile phones and radar. It is the largest centre for the education of healthcare professionals in Europe; no university has more Medical Research Council Centres. For more information visit: www.kcl.ac.uk.
King's College London and Guy's and St Thomas', King's College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trusts are part of King's Health Partners. King's Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre (AHSC) is a pioneering global collaboration between one of the world's leading research-led universities and three of London's most successful NHS Foundation Trusts, including leading teaching hospitals and comprehensive mental health services. For more information, visit: www.kingshealthpartners.org.
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