In its chronic stage, schizophrenia is typically marked by a dearth of links between brain cells in the prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain responsible for higher-order thinking. However, a new study by Yale and Chinese researchers shows that the onset of the disease — usually in the early 20s — is marked by an abnormal spike in neural connections.
The surprising finding, published in the Jan. 7 issue of The Journal Neuroscience, suggests new strategies for treatment during early stages of the illness that afflicts 20 million people worldwide with debilitating delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thinking, and cognitive deficits.
“After the first episode at least, it appears that is not the lack of brain signals that produces abnormal internal states in schizophrenia but instead excessive communication,” said Alan Anticevic, assistant professor of psychiatry and lead author on the paper.
Anticevic cautioned it is unclear whether the excess of connectivity causes symptoms of schizophrenia or whether this neural “signature” is the result of some other process, such as fever is a response to infection. If further research establishes this link then individuals during early-stage schizophrenia might benefit from drugs that can minimize the abnormal spike in neural communication, notes Anticevic.