New Delhi: Simple brain scans can help
predict the onset of schizophrenia in young people with a
family history of the disease, scientists have claimed.
A team from the University of Edinburgh found that the
brains of people who go on to develop schizophrenia suffer
from an accelerated shrinking before they become unwell.
Schizophrenia, which affects one in every 100 people, is characterised by delusions and hallucinations. It is associated with a reduction in brain tissue but researchers said the timing of these changes has, until now, been unclear.
According to the scientists, their discovery which is the
result of a decade-long research marked a "significant step"
forward and could help medics diagnose and treat the condition
at an earlier stage.
"This study represents the culmination of more than 10
years of work and is a significant step to understanding the
origins of schizophrenia years before the onset of disability
and medical treatment," Dr Andrew McIntosh of the university`s
psychiatry division was quoted as saying.
For their study, the team looked at the brain scans of
146 people, aged between 16 and 25, with a family history of
schizophrenia, but who had not yet experienced any symptoms,
and compared them to scans of 36 people with no such risk.
The scans were taken every 18 months over a 10-year
The university said it is the first time that such
changes in the brain size have been found in people at high
risk of schizophrenia before they develop any symptoms.
Unlike previous studies, these changes cannot be due to
medication because all of the people in the study were not
using medication when they took part, it said.
In healthy people, the brain begins to shrink from early
adulthood onwards. It is known that accelerated shrinking of
the brain occurs in people with manic depression and
schizophrenia, but before now it was not known whether these
changes happened before people became unwell.
But this study showed that the loss of brain tissue is
concentrated in areas of the brain that control personality,
decision-making and social behaviour.
Researchers said scans could be used to pinpoint
shrinkage of the brain in people at high risk of schizophrenia
and could help doctors diagnose the condition and start
treatment at an earlier stage, perhaps before illness first
The study was published in the journal Biological