Monday, January 17, 2011

Schizophrenia and shrinking brains

Brain scans could be used to help people at risk of developing schizophrenia so that they can be offered help before they become unwell. Schizophrenia is known to run in families and researchers from Edinburgh University compared 146 people with a family history of the illness, but who had suffered no symptoms themselves, with 36 healthy controls. All the participants were between 16 and 25 at the start of the study and were not taking anti-psychotic medication; they had brain scans every 18 months over a 10-year period. The study found that the participants who later went on to develop schizophrenia suffered from an acceleration of brain shrinkage before they became unwell. It is known that accelerated brain shrinkage occurs in people with bipolar disorder, or manic-depression, and schizophrenia, but until now it was not known whether these changes occurred before people became ill, as a result of their illness or as a side effect of their medication. The loss of brain tissue occurred in areas of the brain associated with personality, decision making and social behaviour.

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