Psychotic Disorders

Researchers from McLean Hospital and Yale University have published findings of their study of large scale systems in the brain, findings that could improve understanding of the symptoms and causes of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, and other mental illnesses.

Their paper, “Functional Connectomics of Affective and Psychotic Pathology, details their investigation into brain network connectivity in patients with psychotic disorders. According to lead researcher Justin T. Baker, MD, PhD, scientific director of the McLean Institute for Technology in Psychiatry, the study took a birds-eye view to look into the ways large-scale systems in the brain interact with one another.

Magnetic resonance imaging

Baker and his colleagues use functional magnetic resonance imaging data from more than 1,000 individuals, including patients who had been diagnose with conditions such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and depression. Information was collect through rest scans; which subjects were ask to simply lie in a scanner with their eyes open; so allowing researchers to capture data about spontaneous fluctuations in the brain.

Baker explain that the work is base on connectomics; so the concept of measuring all connections in the brain at the same time. They said that this type of “whole-system perspective” differs from most research into the biological foundations of psychiatric conditions. For most studies, illnesses are study in isolation; but evidence strongly suggests that distinct psychiatric diagnoses are not separate by clear neurobiological boundaries, said Baker.

The approach we’ve taken is to look at the whole brain so you can see not only how individual systems like the visual system and motor system are functioning, but how higher order systems like cognitive systems are functioning in the brain to see if there are correlations. He said that the study is significant because “they don’t have any objective measures of psychiatric illnesses that allow us to verify a patient’s reports about their symptoms there are no vital signs in psychiatry.

Changes in the brain

This work, however, allows for brain ‘fingerprinting’ to try to address; so what changes in the brain are share across illnesses and what aspects might be specific to different illnesses,” said Baker. This work points to evidence at a high level that there are very pronounce changes in the brain that start to serve as an objective biomarker. The study begins to give us a better way of seeing how schizophrenia, bipolar disorder; also depression are similar or have share underlying causes.

They explain that prior research has indicate that there is significant genetic risk for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder; also they also know that these conditions affect certain parts of the brain; but this study highlights that one system is affect or disrupt as a function of how severe the illness is; so irrespective of whether it was psychosis or an affect illness like depression.

Baker said that he and his colleagues plan to build on this research through studies; so into the functioning of large-scale brain systems related to OCD and trauma and longer term investigations. They want to see if there is a fingerprint for different conditions; also then use that information and apply it to the individual. They’re trying to go from the snapshot view of these biomarkers; so to something that is much more dynamic and captures changes and nuances.