Working to loosen the grip of severe mental illness

July 10, 2014 by Rob Forman
Working to loosen the grip of severe mental illness
Poor connectivity between areas of the brain may be at the root of severe mental illness.

(Medical Xpress)—A neuroscientist at Rutgers University-Newark says the human brain operates much the same whether active or at rest – a finding that could provide a better understanding of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other serious mental health conditions that afflict an estimated 13.6 million Americans.

In newly published research in the journal Neuron, Michael Cole, an assistant professor at the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, determined that the underlying architecture of a person at rest is basically the same as that of a person performing a variety of tasks.

This is important to the study of because it is easier to analyze a brain at rest, says Cole, who made the discovery using functional (fMRI).

"We can now observe people relaxing in the scanner and be confident that what we see is there all the time," says Cole, who initially feared his team might find that the brain reorganizes itself for every task. "If that had been the case, we would have had less hope that we could understand mental illness in our lifetime."

Instead, Cole says, scientists can now make their search for causes of mental illness more focused – and he suggests at least one target of opportunity. The prefrontal cortex is a portion of the brain involved in high level thinking, as well as remembering what a person's goal is and the task being performed.

Cole says it would be useful to explore whether connectivity between the prefrontal cortex and other areas of the brain is altered – while the brain is at rest – in people with severe mental illness. "And then we can finally say something fundamental," he predicts, "about what's different about the brain's functional network in schizophrenia and other conditions."

Those differences, in turn, could explain certain symptoms. For instance, what if a patient has visual hallucinations because poor connectivity between the and the portion of the brain that governs sight causes the hallucinations to replace what the eyes actually see? Cole suggests that's just one of the questions that analysis of the brain at rest might help to answer. Others include a person's debilitating beliefs, such as overly negative self-assessment when depressed.

Opportunities to find better ways to improve patients' lives might then follow. Cole notes that current medications for severe mental illness, when they help at all, typically do not relieve cognitive symptoms. It is possible the drugs will reduce hallucinations or depressing thoughts, but patients continue to have difficulty concentrating on the task at hand, and often find it hard to find or hold a job. Cole says that even solving that one issue would be a major step forward – and he hopes his new work has helped advance science toward achieving this goal.

Explore further: Brain imaging can predict how intelligent you are, study finds

Related Stories

Brain imaging can predict how intelligent you are, study finds

August 1, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- When it comes to intelligence, what factors distinguish the brains of exceptionally smart humans from those of average humans?

Regulating brain activity to improve attention

June 4, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Researchers from The University of Nottingham have found that balanced activity in the brain's prefrontal cortex is necessary for attention.

Brain discovery could help schizophrenics

July 15, 2013
The discovery of brain impairment in mice may eventually lead to better therapies for people with schizophrenia and major depression.

Shared brain disruption illustrates similarities between mental illnesses

July 4, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—A specific brain disruption is present both in individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia and those with bipolar disorder, adding to evidence that many mental illnesses have biological similarities.

Inside the adult ADHD brain

June 10, 2014
About 11 percent of school-age children in the United States have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). While many of these children eventually "outgrow" the disorder, some carry their difficulties ...

Brain scientist continues exploring the brain

June 24, 2014
A Montana State University assistant professor in neuroscience is part of a team that has made progress understanding how the brain processes visual information. In addition to adding to the basic understanding of brain function, ...

Recommended for you

Scientists discover common obesity and diabetes drug reduces rise in brain pressure

August 23, 2017
Research led by the University of Birmingham, published today in Science Translational Medicine, has discovered that a drug commonly used to treat patients with either obesity or Type II diabetes could be used as a novel ...

Use of brain-computer interface, virtual avatar could help people with gait disabilities

August 23, 2017
Researchers from the University of Houston have shown for the first time that the use of a brain-computer interface augmented with a virtual walking avatar can control gait, suggesting the protocol may help patients recover ...

Researcher working to develop new tool for non-invasive neuromodulation of human brain

August 23, 2017
A UTA researcher is developing a technology that will map and image the effects of infrared light shone on the human brain that may be able to modulate and improve brain waves and circuits at certain spots in the brain.

Physicist reports binary marker of preclinical and clinical Alzheimer's disease

August 23, 2017
A new technique shows high potential for providing a discrete, non-invasive biomarker of Alzheimer's disease (AD) at the individual level during both preclinical and clinical stages. The proposed biomarker has a large effect ...

Firing of neurons changes the cells that insulate them

August 22, 2017
Through their pattern of firing, neurons influence the behavior of the cells that upon maturation will provide insulation of neuronal axons, according to a new study publishing 22 August in the open access journal PLOS Biology ...

Activating brain region creates intense desire to use cocaine

August 22, 2017
Researchers have identified a portion of the brain that intensifies one's desire for certain rewards—in this case, mimicking addiction to cocaine.

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

RobertKarlStonjek
not rated yet Jul 10, 2014
What happened to the Default Mode Network?
(said to become active when the brain is a rest)
maitriandkaruna
not rated yet Jul 11, 2014
Mental "differences" will be minimized once it is recognized how important mental integration is. Most people are severely "handed". Mental issues could be decreased simply by having patients use the other hand more regularly. Hate labels, everyone is bipolar to some degrees (2 sides of any brain). Come to think of it, all creation is bipolar (duality of the ONE), so why is there an expectation the human mind would be any different???

Schizophrenia which runs in my family is another story. Reality as we are coming to know is much stranger than we could have ever imagines. When you think about such things all the time, there is no doubt you might end up a little insane. How many faces (inherent to all nature), can you see, without believing yourself "crazy". But I truly believe, there is a good kinda crazy :-)

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.