July 8, 2009

Brain topography study may aid diagnoses

U.S. researchers say they are mapping the dimensions of human brain structures to improve the diagnosis of mental disorders such as schizophrenia.

Northwestern University Professor John Csernansky, who is leading the study sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health, said the research will involve 100 participants, half with early-stage schizophrenia and half who are healthy.

During the two-year study the researchers plan to regularly map participants' brain topography with magnetic resonance imaging. The scientists said differences between schizophrenic and normal brains might allow them to identify schizophrenia during its early stages, and help determine if medicines halt the advance of the disease.

Understanding what changes in brain structure occur very early in the course of schizophrenia and how medication may or may not affect these structures as time goes by will help us reduce the uncertainty of psychiatric diagnosis and improve the selection of treatments, Csernansky, chairman of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the university's Feinberg School of Medicine, said. Like every other illness, psychiatric illnesses don't blossom in their full form overnight. They come on gradually. A biomarker of the schizophrenic brain structure would help us define it, especially in cases where the symptoms are mild or fleeting.