JAN 12, 2024 12:48 PM PST

Largest Study on Early Onset Psychosis Highlights Key Brain Difference

WRITTEN BY: Amielle Moreno

Early Onset Psychosis (EOP) remains a rare enigma, posing challenges for researchers aiming to unravel its complexities. Yet, a recent groundbreaking study by Si and colleagues at King's College, London, in collaboration with a global team of scientists, has expanded our understanding of EOP. Published in Molecular Psychiatry, this study is the largest brain imaging investigation focused on EOP to date.

Early Onset Psychosis: A Developmental Conundrum

Symptoms of early onset psychosis, such as impaired logical thinking and difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy, manifest before the age of 18. Individuals grappling with psychosis during these formative years often experience more entrenched symptoms, exhibiting a poorer response to treatment and enduring long-lasting effects. We do not know what is responsible for exacerbating the difficulties associated with this condition: the timing of the psychosis during a critical developmental time or the form of psychosis that manifests earlier in life.

Methodological Innovation: ENIGMA and Voxel-Based Morphometry

Si et al. leveraged the Enhancing Neuro Imaging Genetics through Meta-Analysis initiative (ENIGMA): a collaborative group uniting over 50 research groups, allowing for brain imaging and genomic data pooling. This innovative consortium allowed Si et al. to analyze brain data from a staggering 482 individuals with EOP, providing a comprehensive understanding of this elusive condition.

The study's methodology also used Voxel-Based Morphometry (VBM), an advanced brain imaging technique that can explore hundreds of thousands of three-dimensional brain tissue segments called voxels. This approach starkly contrasts traditional MRI methods, which are limited to predetermined regions of interest.

Using VBM with data from ENIGMA, Si et al. mapped the gray and white matter volume differences across the entire brain in individuals with EOP.

Unveiling the Gray Matter Landscape

Si et al.’s findings demonstrated a widespread decrease in gray matter volume throughout the brain in EOP patients compared to healthy controls. Notably, this loss was most pronounced in the cingulate, a region responsible for emotional processing and behavior. The median cingulate, an area largely unexamined in behavioral studies, demonstrated the most marked effect.

For those who developed psychosis later in life, distinct differences in gray matter volume emerged in smaller brain regions, demonstrating the nuanced variations within the condition.

Molecular Psychiatry, Si et al., 2024

Implications for Early Onset Psychosis Treatment

Gaining a deeper understanding of EOP pathology holds the key to addressing pressing questions in clinical practice. By exploring the unknown pathology behind early onset psychosis, scientists are offering hope that soon they will identify underlying causes for this daunting condition.


Sources: Nature, NIH, Case.edu, NeuRA.edu

About the Author
Doctorate (PhD)
Amielle Moreno earned her doctorate in neuroscience from Emory University and has dedicated her career to science communication, news coverage, and academic writing/editing. She is a published researcher who has branched out to author articles for various science websites. She recently published an original research article detailing her findings on how sensory areas of the brain respond to social sound. When she's not writing or editing, you can find her spinning the latest neuroscience news into comedy gold, hosting her podcast "Miss Behavior Journal Club." This fortnightly humorous podcast features the latest in behavioral research. Her goal in life is to defend and discover scientific truths.
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