An international collaboration of researchers has uncovered some new evidence supporting the idea there might be multiple types of schizophrenia. By looking at brain scans of people suffering from the condition and comparing them to those who don't, they showed structures in the brain that could be linked to the illness.
Symptoms of the condition can include hallucinations, delusions, and confusion, as well as changes in behavior and learning difficulties. But not all patients experience all these symptoms, which had suggested to scientists that there might be multiple types of schizophrenia as well as physiological differences between different patients. As reported in Schizophrenia Bulletin, the researchers found different neuroanatomical features that were linked to different symptoms, as well as differences between who suffered from schizophrenia and who didn’t, and even within those who do.
A total of 145 people had their brain scanned with an MRI, with 71 of those suffering from the condition. The researchers discovered not only a difference in the brains of those with and without the disorder, but what they think are two subgroups within those who do have it. The scans showed differences in the brains of people who had schizophrenia for longer compared to people that had been suffering from it for much less time. The latter group, which tends to have more hallucination episodes, was shown to have a smaller than usual volume in the brain’s frontal region.
The group who had been suffering for longer had differences in more regions of the brain. Unfortunately, these people tend to experience the more “social” aspects of the condition in a more intense way, such as withdrawing from interactions with others.
The new study has a lot of potential and though it is not yet conclusive, it adds to the evidence that there are at least two distinct subtypes of the disorder. Schizophrenia treatments are a mixture of medication and psychotherapy and they work best when tailored to the individual patients – just as not all people experience the same symptoms, not all react the same to the same drug treatment. If MRI scans can help distinguish between the different types, it might be possible to deliver better diagnoses and tailored treatment.
We don’t know conclusively what the causes of schizophrenia are, although most experts believe it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The team is now expanding the analysis by looking at 3,000 more brain scans. They hope to corroborate their result and maybe even find more structures that can help with diagnoses. This might lead to uncovering more subtypes of the condition and more specific treatments. The earlier the condition is treated, the better it is for the patient.
[H/T: New Scientist]