Siblings of children with schizophrenia show resilience to the condition as they grow up

Posted on August 8, 2015

Researchers from the University of Melbourne and the National Institute of Mental Health in Washington DC used structural brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to map the brains of 109 children with childhood-onset schizophrenia (COS), from ages 12 to 24.

They compared the images with scans taken of the participants' brothers and sisters without COS to see if similar brain changes took place over time.

The siblings without COS showed similar delays in brain connectivity while growing up, but these connections tended to normalise or 'catch up' to those of normally developing adolescents.

Lead researcher, Dr Andrew Zalesky is a University of Melbourne electrical engineer who lends his expertise to understanding the brain's wiring. He divides his time between the Faculties of Medicine and Engineering at the Melbourne Neuropsychiatry Centre.

Dr Zalesky says the ability of the siblings to catch up and develop important brain circuitry means there is a degree of resilience to their risk for schizophrenia.

"We've looked at the development of brain networks over the adolescent period, from childhood to early adulthood. Abnormalities detected early in the unaffected children normalise by age 16," Dr Zalesky said.

"The greatest risk for schizophrenia is family history, but the majority of siblings of individuals with the disorder are unaffected.

"So why are these brothers and sisters able to overcome the risk? Looking for these biological factors that protect a person from developing schizophrenia opens up a new direction in the search for treatments."


Source material from University of Melbourne