New investigation into the detection of psychosis

Brain scan

A study conducted by the University of Missouri, USA, has detected neurological brain markers that could detect the risk of psychotic disorders.

Psychotic disorders can cause both audible and visual hallucinations. These hallucinations can vary in severity, with some causing the individual to completely disconnect from reality.

New research conducted at the University of Missouri presents some hope for research in psychosis. Scientists have identified neurological markers in the human brain which can detect people at-risk for developing psychotic disorders and which could also help scientist understand if a patient has received effective medication.

John Kerns is a professor of psychology in the University of Missouri’s College of Arts and Science. Kern said: “Psychotic disorders like schizophrenia are often lifelong and disabling for individuals…These disorders have major public health and societal costs greater than cancer. A major goal of our current research is to understand the nature of psychosis risk so we can prevent years of suffering.”

The striatum is an area in the brain, which is wired to process positive and negative feedback, this area of the brain also effects people’s thoughts and actions based on previous experiences. The striatum also contains nerve cells that release the chemical dopamine, a chemical associated with positive reactions to behaviour such as food and sex.

However, research suggests that those with psychotic disorders receive faulty feedback in their striatum and have increased levels of dopamine. Measuring levels of dopamine is costly, invasive and impractical. In this new study, researchers used an MRI and found that people at risk for psychotic disorders exhibit strong evidence of striatum dysfunction.

Professor John Kern said: “This dysfunction is most evident when performing tasks where people need to learn from positive and negative feedback…For instance, we have found that the risk for psychotic disorders involves increased activation in the striatum for positive feedback, and negative feedback involves decreased activation in the same subregion of the brain.”

The pattern of activation is believed to explain the symptoms of psychotic disorders. Researchers believe that activations as a result of positive feedback could make someone’s assumption seem truer that in it really is, with decreased negative feedbacks making someone less likely to discard negative ideas.

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