Faulty wiring in the brain may cause early-onset schizophrenia

CHICAGO Using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to look into the brains of children with schizophrenia, researchers have discovered abnormalities in the white matter of the frontal lobe that disrupt the transmission of signals regulating behavior, according to a study presented today at the 89th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

"Until now there's been no sophisticated method of finding abnormalities in the white matter of the brain," said the study's lead author Manzar Ashtari, Ph.D., associate professor of radiology and psychiatry at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. "Conventional magnetic resonance (MR) imaging is limited in its ability to reveal brain myelination, but DTI enables us to measure the myelination process."

Myelin is the covering of nerve bundles that protects neurons and increases their transmission efficiency. The accumulation of myelin around these neurons is called myelination. In the human developmental process, myelination correlates with maturing patterns of behavior. In patients with schizophrenia, the cells that carry out the process of myelination are defective.

Myelination activity is at its strongest during the teen years. "This is a critical time for adolescents who are still maturing emotionally," Dr. Ashtari said. "During the myelination process, microstructural damage to developing white matter fiber tracts may lead to developmental abnormalities. These are the types of abnormalities we observed in the frontal white matter regions in the children with schizophrenia."

Dr. Ashtari and her team used DTI to study 12 adolescents with early-onset schizophrenia and nine healthy, age-matched adolescents. They found distinct differences in the white brain matter of the frontal lobe, which controls numerous emotional, cognitive and linguistic behaviors. When signals are disrupted, abnormal b

Contact: Maureen Morley
Radiological Society of North America

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