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The Underpinnings of Psychosis Risk

September 18, 2013. What does a brain vulnerable to developing psychosis look like? A new study in JAMA Psychiatry published online September 4 finds that such at-risk brains exhibit patterns of neural activity resembling those found in psychosis, with weak connections in one place and overexuberant connections in another.

Led by Alex Fornito of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and colleagues at University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, the study focused on a region called the striatum, a structure located deep within the brain that some researchers think is a crossroads for psychosis. The striatum, however, is a complicated place: Part of it is connected to brain regions involved in complex thinking, and another section is connected to parts of the brain involved in emotion.

Using brain scanning, the researchers examined the state of the connections linking these other parts of the brain to the striatum. They not only scanned people newly ill with psychosis, but also their healthy parents or siblings. Because these relatives carry some of the substantial genetic factors contributing to psychosis, any unusual connections found in the relatives that overlapped with those found in people with psychosis could constitute a sign of a brain at risk for psychosis. Indeed, compared to controls, the researchers found that both groups showed a striatum that was only weakly connected to its complex-thought partners, but heavily connected to its emotion brain counterparts. (For more details, see the related news story.)—Michele Solis.

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