Brain Connectivity Problems Linked with Psychotic Disorders are Present in Youth with Less Severe Symptoms

Brain Connectivity Problems Linked with Psychotic Disorders are Present in Youth with Less Severe Symptoms

Posted: June 23, 2015

Story highlights


In a new brain imaging study that examined people between the ages of 8 and 22, researchers found that network connectivity problems common in adults with psychotic disorders are also present in youths who experience less severe symptoms of psychosis. The findings were published June 2nd in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

The study was conducted by a team of scientists at the University of Pennsylvania, including the Foundation’s 2014 Klerman Award winner Theodore D. Satterthwaite, M.D., who was also a NARSAD Young Investigator grantee in 2010; Raquel Gur, M.D., Ph.D., and Ruben Gur, Ph.D., co-recipients of the Foundation’s 2009 Lieber Prize and both prior NARSAD grantees; and past grantees Daniel H. Wolf, M.D., Ph.D., and Richard Cameron Craddock, Ph.D.

The team used functional magnetic resonance imaging to observe activity in the brains of 188 youths with psychosis-spectrum symptoms, as well as in 204 people in the same age group who had no history of psychiatric symptoms. The researchers compared network connections in the brain images and found disparities between the two groups in several brain regions. Most of the abnormalities were involved in two brain networks: the cingulo-opercular network, which is broadly involved in cognition (thinking), and the default mode network, which is most active when the brain is at rest, rather than focused on a task or goal.

The scientists found that in young people with psychosis symptoms, most of the brain regions involved in the default mode network were more strongly connected than they were in the other study participants, whereas connections within the cingulo-opercular network were diminished. These differences in functional connectivity were associated with cognitive impairments: study participants with elevated connectivity in the default mode network performed poorly on tests of executive function (mental skills that help get things done), complex reasoning, episodic memory, and social cognition (how people process, store, and apply information about other people and social situations).

Similar abnormalities have been observed within the cingulo-opercular network and the default mode network in adults with psychotic disorders. The new data suggests these connectivity problems likely arise early in life.

Mapping out abnormal connections that are characteristic of psychosis could help researchers develop better diagnostic tools to identify at-risk individuals and tailor treatment for specific groups of patients.

Read the abstract.