New findings out on brain networks in children at risk for mental disorders

Attention deficits are central to psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, and are thought to precede the presentation of the illnesses. A new study led by Wayne State University School of Medicine researcher Vaibhav Diwadkar, Ph.D. suggests that the brain network interactions between regions that support attention are dysfunctional in children and adolescents at genetic risk for developing schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

"The network mechanisms that mediate these deficits are poorly understood, and have rarely been tackled using complex image analytic methods that focus on how communicate," said Diwadkar, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences and co-director of the department's Brain Imaging Research Division

The desire to understand dysfunctional brain mechanisms motivated Diwadkar and his team of colleagues and WSU medical students in the study titled, "Dysfunction and dysconnection in cortical-striatal networks during : genetic risk for schizophrenia or and its impact on brain network function," featured in the May issue of Frontiers in Psychiatry.

The study is clinically significant because the estimated lifetime incidence of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder in the groups studied is approximately 10-20 times what is generally observed. "We believe that genetic risk may confer vulnerability for dysfunctional brain network communication. This abnormal network communication in turn might amplify risk for psychiatric illnesses. By identifying markers of network dysfunction we believe we can elucidate these mechanisms of risk. This knowledge may in turn increase focus on possible premeditative intervention strategies," Diwadkar said.

The researchers identified dysfunctional brain mechanisms of sustained attention using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging data and complex modeling of fMRI signals. Data were collected in 46 children and adolescents ages 8 to 20, half at genetic risk for schizophrenia or bipolar disorder by virtue of having one or both parents with either illness. During the 20-minute fMRI, participants completed a sustained attention task, adapted to engage specific brain regions.

The researchers induced variations in the degree of demand on these brain regions – a method of assessing how genetic risk might impair the brain's ability to respond to attention challenges – by varying task difficulty. Increased attention demand led to increased engagement in the typical control group. The genetically at-risk group did not respond the same. Instead, interactions between the dorsal anterior cingulate, a principal control region in the brain, and the basal ganglia were highly dysfunctional in that group, suggesting impaired communication between specific brain networks.

The study indicates that brain networks supporting basic psychological functions such as do not communicate appropriately in young individuals at for illnesses such as or bipolar disorder.

"Genetics and neurodevelopment are inextricably linked. How psychiatric illnesses emerge from their combination is a central question in medicine. Analytic tools developed in the last few years offer the promise of answers at the level of how these processes impact communication," Diwadkar said.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Toddlers copy their peers to fit in, but apes don't

15 hours ago

From the playground to the board room, people often follow, or conform, to the behavior of those around them as a way of fitting in. New research shows that this behavioral conformity appears early in human ...

Sadness lasts longer than other emotions

16 hours ago

Why is it that you can feel sad up to 240 times longer than you do feeling ashamed, surprised, irritated or even bored? It's because sadness often goes hand in hand with events of greater impact such as death ...

Can parents make their kids smarter?

16 hours ago

Reading bedtime stories, engaging in conversation and eating nightly dinners together are all positive ways in which parents interact with their children, but according to new research, none of these actions ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.