Neurological brain markers might detect risk for psychotic disorders

Posted on August 31, 2019

People who may hear and see things that are not there could have symptoms of psychosis, better known as psychotic disorders. Researchers at the University of Missouri have found neurological markers in the human brain that can be used to detect people at-risk for developing psychotic disorders and to understand when this risk has been successfully treated.

These psychotic disorders like schizophrenia are often lifelong and disabling for individuals. These disorders have major public health and societal costs greater than cancer. This research seeks to understand the nature of psychosis risk so that it can help prevent sufferings.

Psychotic disorders are associated with increased levels of dopamine – a chemical released by nerve cells – in the subregion of the brain called the striatum. The area is wired to process positive and negative feedback for learning, often resulting in a person’s thoughts and actions based on what they have experienced in the past. Thus, researchers suggest that psychotic disorders involve a faulty feedback in learning that drives the person’s faulty beliefs and perceptions. In this study, MU researchers used MRI to find that people at risk for psychotic disorders exhibit evidence of dysfunction in the striatum.

Researchers found that this dysfunction is most evident when performing tasks where people need to learn from positive and negative feedback. For example, we found that the risk for psychotic increased activation in the striatum for positive feedback, and negative feedback involves decreased activation in the striatum for positive feedback, and negative feedback involves decreased activation in the same subregion of the brain.

Researchers believe this pattern of activation could explain symptoms of psychotic disorders. For example, activation resulting from increased positive feedback could make a person's assumption seem truer than it really is, meanwhile activation from decreased negative feedback could make someone less likely to discard negative ideas. The team will conduct future research to examine how well an MRI can predict the risk of psychotic disorders and whether prevention treatments can 'normalize' MRI scans. They hope that their research will help prevent psychotic disorders, improve the lives of millions of people and greatly reduce public health costs.

Category(s):Adult psychological development

Source material from Science Daily