MRI Shows Lack of Grey Matter Linked to Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder

JANUARY 16, 2009
Chris Cole

Using MRI to detect changes in adolescents’ brain structure, scientists at the Gregorio Marañón University Hospital in Madrid and El Centro de Investigación Biomédica En Red (CIBER) de Salud Mental (CIBERSAM) found lower levels of grey matter in the brains of those who were experiencing a first psychosis outbreak, compared with healthy counterparts.

Published recently in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the study broke down psychosis into schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other psychoses not fitting these classifications. “The interesting thing was that we found common alterations among those with two types of clinically differentiated psychoses, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and this could help to improve diagnosis of these illnesses,” said study co-author Santiago Reig, Medical Imaging Laboratory, Gregorio Marañón Hospital. “Patients with early psychotic outbreaks (before the age of 18) showed alterations in the medial prefrontal gyrus region of the brain, which controls processes such as cognition and the regulation of sensations.”

Reig added that “Anything that helps to detect alterations shared between distinct pathologies can help in the development of drugs and in finding common characteristics between these different diseases. Results like these are fundamental for the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses.”

Although the research doesn’t show a causal link between the lack of grey matter and psychosis, it does show that most patients with schizophrenia and type 1 bipolar disorder suffer from a lack of grey matter, whereas most healthy people have normal levels. “We still do not know whether this loss of grey matter is caused by the illness or not,” said Reig. “Maybe relating these developments with other new findings will one day help us to solve the riddle of psychiatric illnesses.”

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