Brain Abnormality Indicates General Risk for Mental Illness

Posted on May 18, 2018

Researchers have long thought that some aspects of the biology of the risk for psychiatric disorders were specific to certain disorders, and by studying specific groups of patients, may have mistaken general risk factors as specific risk factors. A new study by researchers at Duke University suggests that a person's risk for developing mental illness is not specific to one form of disorder, but is instead shared across many different disorders.

Many of the participants in this study met the criteria for psychiatric disorders, including alcohol or substance use disorder, major depressive disorder, and bipolar disorder. However, rather than dividing the participants by a specific diagnosis, researchers gave each person a score that reflected their general mental health liability based on psychiatric assessments.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of the whole brain identified a relationship between the individual scores from the psychiatric assessments and increased connectivity between the visual cortex and specific brain networks important for high level thinking. The networks, referred to as default mode network and frontoparietal network, are critical for behaviors aimed at completing certain tasks, and suppressing internal distractions to tease out sensory information relevant to that task.

According to first author Maxwell Elliott, a doctoral student in the laboratory of Ahmad Hariri, PhD, these patterns suggest that broad risk for mental illness may reflect subtle problems in how a person is able to integrate their thoughts, plans, and actions with their fundamental experience of the world, which in humans is primarily represented by visual information. These findings could hence help clinicians assess a patient's general risk for developing a mental illness in future.

Category(s):Addictions, Depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) / Trauma / Complex PTSD, Schizophrenia

Source material from Science Daily