Schizophrenia: Restoring Brain Circuitry to Improve Symptoms

Posted on February 4, 2019

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Schizophrenia is a mental health condition characterized by symptoms of hallucinations and delusions. It also results in additional negative symptoms of flat affect, anhedonia, monotone speech, and avoiding of social interaction. The causes of schizophrenia is still poorly understood till this day and treatments for it includes psychological counselling and the use of antipsychotic medications. However, a recent study conducted has possibly found a non-invasive treatment method towards improving the negative symptoms of schizophrenia.

In Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard Medical School, researchers have been investigating the brain activity of people who experience severe negative symptoms of schizophrenia. Literature in this area is limited and thus they were motivated to pin the biological differences between individuals with and without schizophrenia, and between individuals who are more symptomatic as compared to others who are less so. What was found was a possible association between increased negative symptom severity and a breakdown in the neural circuitry between the cerebellum and the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

Their study was conducted through scanning the brains of participants with schizophrenia diagnosis using fMRI, specifically to track the changes in brain connectivity that might be associated with the symptoms of schizophrenia. From there, they found a relationship between severity of negative symptoms and poor connectivity between the prefrontal cortex and cerebellum, two brain areas said to play a role in determining personality and social behavior and control of movement respectively.

With this new-found information, researchers then began to investigate the possibility of whether restoring the target brain circuitry through noninvasive brain stimulation, would improve the symptom severity of individuals with schizophrenia. This was done through the random assignment of a separate group of individuals with schizophrenia to either a group that would receive the noninvasive brain stimulations, and the other that would receive a placebo. This took place over a period of five consecutive days with those receiving brain stimulations undergoing two session per day. The results of this study showed that the group who received the brain stimulation to the faulty brain network had better neural activity in that circuit with simultaneous improvements in their negative symptom severity.

Though this form of treatment might not be as effective for every individual, those who did undergo brain stimulations displayed some form of improvements regardless. Ultimately, this study not only provided an additional treatment method for schizophrenia, it also illuminates the brain network and circuit associated with negative symptoms of schizophrenia. This will then allow researchers to further develop on this noninvasive method of treatment, or conceptualise a new form of treatment that targets this brain circuit as well.


Source material from Medical News Today