NARSAD Grant-Funded Study Identifies Disrupted Brain Communication in Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder

Alan Anticevic, Ph.D., Expert on Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder
Alan Anticevic, Ph.D.

Alan Anticevic, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in Psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, used his NARSAD Young Investigator Grant to pursue a project examining connectivity between the thalamus, a deep brain area considered to be a central hub of communication, and the rest of the brain. Using state-of-the-art functional neuroimaging, Dr. Anticevic and colleagues at Yale discovered a specific communication glitch in patients with schizophrenia, and to a lesser degree in patients with bipolar disorder. The new findings, reported online July 3rd in the journal Cerebral Cortex, may offer an important “biomarker” (or biological predictor) for psychiatric illnesses. Very few biomarkers yet exist for mental illnesses and they are crucial to enable psychiatrists to diagnose illness based on biological measures in addition to observable behavior.

In the current study, the Yale team compared brain scans of 90 patients with schizophrenia and 90 healthy “controls” – and then repeated the analysis with patients with bipolar disorder. They found communication was altered significantly between the thalamus and other regions of the brain―over-connectivity from the thalamus to sensory-motor areas (closely correlated with symptoms) but under-connectivity to the prefrontal cortex―in individuals with schizophrenia and, to a lesser degree, in those with bipolar disorder. The findings also offer further evidence of some shared neurobiology between these two illnesses.  

“This data provides the first brain-wide evidence that cortical-thalamic functional connectivity is profoundly altered in schizophrenia, and strongly supports the hypothesis that neuropsychiatric conditions with shared symptoms actually exist on a continuum of brain activity,” said Dr. Anticevic, lead author of the study.

Other former NARSAD Grantees involved in this study include John Krystal, M.D., David Glahn, Ph.D., and Godfrey Pearlson, M.B.B.S., M.D.

For more information about this research, read about it on Yale’s website.

Featured in a blog on Summer Science by Dr. Thomas Insel, Director of the NIMH.