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Lena Palaniyappan

Can the Brain Fight off Schizophrenia?

New MRI data reveals that the brain reorganizes itself in response to schizophrenia.

| 2 min read

New MRI data reveals that the brain reorganizes itself in response to schizophrenia.

For the first time, imaging data has led researchers to wonder whether patients with schizophrenia have the capability to combat the effects of the disease in their own brains.

Schizophrenia is typically associated with a reduction in brain tissue volume across the brain, but recent evidence indicates that there’s a subtle increase in brain tissue in certain regions.

The researchers studied 98 schizophrenic patients and compared them to 83 controls, using MRI technology and a statistical method called “covariance analysis,” which allows for the comparison of one variable in two or more groups while controlling for the effects of other variables that aren’t of primary interest — this helped them distinguish the increase of brain tissue.

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Until now, this had never been demonstrated in schizophrenic patients due to the subtlety and distributed nature of the tissue increases, the study press release explains.

“Our results highlight that despite the severity of tissue damage, the brain of a patient with schizophrenia is constantly attempting to reorganize itself, possibly to rescue itself or limit the damage," Dr. Lena Palaniyappan, the Medical Director at the Prevention & Early Intervention Program for Psychoses (PEPP) at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC), said in the release.

Dr. Palaniyappan highlights that the overwhelming perceived notion about curing people with severe mental illnesses, like schizophrenia, is that it’s not possible. "Even the state-of-art frontline treatments aim merely for a reduction rather than a reversal of the cognitive and functional deficits caused by the illness," she says.

Now, this new understanding about the brain’s ability to reorganize itself in attempts to fight off the illness may lead researchers to new avenues of schizophrenia research.

"These findings are important not only because of their novelty and the rigour of the study, but because they point the way to the development of targeted treatments that potentially could better address some of the core pathology in schizophrenia," said Dr. Jeffrey Reiss from LHSC.

"Brain plasticity and the development of related therapies would contribute to a new optimism in an illness that was 100 years ago described as premature dementia for its seemingly progressive deterioration,” he continued.

The results, which have been published in the journal Psychological Medicine, may “lead us to be able to harness the brain's own compensatory changes in the face of this illness and improve recovery,” said Dr. Paul Links, the Chief of Psychiatry at LHSC.

Next, the team plans to clarify the evolution of the brain tissue reorganization process by repeatedly scanning the brains of individuals with early schizophrenia, studying how the reorganization affects their recovery.

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