May 24, 2024

Key Brain Systems Central to Psychosis Identified in New Study

A recent study led by Stanford Medicine has identified two key brain systems that are central to psychosis. The research, published in Molecular Psychiatry on April 11, used brain scan data from individuals with psychosis to delve into the mechanisms underlying hallucinations and delusions.

The study found that individuals with psychosis exhibit dysfunction in two main brain systems: a filter that directs attention towards important external events and internal thoughts, and a predictor composed of pathways that anticipate rewards. This malfunctioning of the brain systems leads to difficulties in distinguishing what is real, resulting in symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions.

Lead author Kaustubh Supekar, Ph.D., clinical associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, highlighted the significance of the findings in understanding the development and progression of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia, a complex mental illness characterized by symptoms like social withdrawal, disorganized thinking, and hallucinations, shares commonalities with psychosis.

The study focused on individuals with a rare genetic disorder called 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, which has a 30% risk of psychosis or schizophrenia. Brain scans of individuals with this genetic syndrome who experience psychosis showed similar brain patterns to those with psychosis of unknown origin. This alignment supports existing theories on the cognitive control systems involved in psychosis development.

Senior study author Vinod Menon, Ph.D., further explained that during psychosis, cognitive control networks in the brain are disrupted, allowing irrational thoughts to dominate. The brain’s ability to filter out irrelevant thoughts and focus on reality is compromised, leading to the manifestation of psychosis symptoms.

The study utilized a machine learning algorithm to analyze brain scan data from individuals with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome and healthy controls. The algorithm accurately distinguished individuals with the genetic syndrome from those without, emphasizing the role of specific brain regions in psychosis.

The findings shed light on the neural mechanisms involved in psychosis and offer insights into potential strategies for preventing or delaying the onset of schizophrenia. By targeting specific brain centers through treatments like transcranial magnetic stimulation, researchers aim to intervene early in individuals at risk of psychosis.

The study also underscores the importance of approaching individuals with psychosis with empathy and understanding. Researchers hope that their work not only advances scientific knowledge but also fosters a cultural shift towards supporting those living with psychosis.

Overall, the study provides valuable insights into the brain systems implicated in psychosis and offers a promising avenue for further research and intervention strategies in mental health care.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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