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

June 5, 2014

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.

Related Stories

Common biology shared in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder

November 4, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—Patients suffering from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder share similar cognitive and brain abnormalities, three new multi-site studies show. The findings, published in the November issue of the American ...

Recommended for you

How language gives your brain a break

August 3, 2015

Here's a quick task: Take a look at the sentences below and decide which is the most effective. (1) "John threw out the old trash sitting in the kitchen." (2) "John threw the old trash sitting in the kitchen out."

Neural efficiency hypothesis confirmed

July 27, 2015

One of the big questions intelligence researchers grapple with is just how differences in intelligence are reflected in the human brain. Researchers at ETH Zurich have succeeded in studying further details relating to suspected ...

How does color blindness affect color preferences?

July 21, 2015

(Medical Xpress)—Dichromacy is a color vision defect in which one of the three types of cone photoreceptors is missing. The condition is hereditary and sex-linked, mostly affecting males. Although researchers have explored ...

0 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.