Public Release: 

New research brain abnormalities appear early in psychoses

Early brain scans may offer best chance of detecting people likely to develop schizophrenia

PsychMed Group

New brain imaging research shows clear abnormalities in the brains of people experiencing their first episode of psychosis, suggesting early detection and even prevention may be possible. Early detection could be crucial because psychiatrists agree that early treatment of psychoses gives the patient the best possible chance of recovery.

The new joint Clinical Neuroscience Research Centre (CNRC) and Institute of Psychiatry study showed that abnormalities previously found in patients with long-term psychoses are present much earlier, perhaps even before symptoms develop. Brain scans of 25 patients in the earliest stages of psychosis showed parts of a section of the brain mainly related to memory and recognition of speech (the temporal lobe) were shrunk compared with those of healthy people.

These findings, to be published in the July issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, suggest that brain scans, using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) could be used to screen for problems in high-risk groups even before symptoms develop.

CNRC Director Professor Tonmoy Sharma said that ultimately brain imaging might fundamentally alter the approach to illnesses such as schizophrenia. "We can now see that differences in brain structure and function are present at a very early stage," he said. "The findings also suggest that brain imaging could become a powerful predictor of future illness. Psychiatrists may be able to treat patients right from the start, preventing distressing symptoms like hallucinations from becoming established."

"In time, with a suitable screening method for schizophrenia using brain imaging, preventative psychiatry becomes a realistic possibility."

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For further information, background to the study and imaging techniques, information on schizophrenia, brain scans and all other enquiries contact Sanchayita Sharma on (w) +44 (0)1322-286862 (m) +44 (0) 7900673340 (email) s.sharma@psychmed.org.uk

Reference: Temporal Lobe Abnormalities in First-Episode Psychosis Alex Sumich, Xavier A. Chitnis, Dominic G. Fannon, Seamus O'Ceallaigh, Victor C. Doku, Abi Falrowicz, Nicolette Marshall, Vallakalil M. Matthew, Mark Potter, and Tonmoy Sharma. American Journal of Psychiatry, July issue

Notes to editors: The Clinical Neuroscience Research Centre is based at Stone House Hospital in Dartford, Kent, UK. Professor Tonmoy Sharma is the director of the Centre and the Chair of the Schizophrenia Working Party for the Royal College of Psychiatrists' Changing Minds Campaign, a 5-year initiative to combat the stigma of mental illness.

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