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Siblings of schizophrenia patients display subtle shape abnormalities in brain
Date:2/19/2008

Subtle malformations in the brains of patients with schizophrenia also tend to occur in their healthy siblings, according to investigators at the Silvio Conte Center for the Neuroscience of Mental Disorders at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Shape abnormalities were found in the brain's thalamus.

The researchers performed brain MRI scans in 25 patients with schizophrenia and their non-affected siblings and compared the scans with those of 40 healthy volunteers and their siblings. Comparisons were possible through a process that converts images into three-dimensional models of brain anatomy, called high-dimensional brain mapping. The technique allows scientists to detect tiny differences in brain anatomy.

"We're interested in the thalamus because it has a lot of connections to the prefrontal cortex," says Michael P. Harms, Ph.D., senior scientist at the Conte Center. " In addition to psychosis, schizophrenia is characterized by other difficulties, such as issues with working memory and decreased cognitive performance. Those symptoms are believed to involve the cortex, and since the thalamus projects throughout the cortex, it's conceivable abnormalities in the thalamus may be related to those symptoms."

Since individuals with schizophrenia and their healthy siblings showed evidence of the same shape abnormalities in the thalamus, the researchers want to look more closely to determine whether these deformations may represent biological markers of disease risk.

"We devised a mathematical approach and developed a shape score based on the differences in shape that we observed between those with schizophrenia and the healthy control subjects," Harms explains. "Then we computed shape scores for the siblings of the schizophrenia patients. Their scores landed between the scores of the controls and the individuals with schizophrenia. The siblings had an intermediate degree of deformation in the thalamus."

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Contact: Jim Dryden
jdryden@wustl.edu
314-286-0110
Washington University School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert

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