Brain Damage in Children with Schizophrenia

October 4, 2001

Schizophrenia is a mental illness that affects about 1% of the population. Although most people develop symptoms of schizophrenia in early adulthood, some children show psychotic behavior (e.g., disordered thinking, altered perception of reality) that is typical of the disorder. In September 2001, researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and the National Institute of Mental Health published the results of a study with an inside view of what occurs in the brains of these children.

Dr. Paul Thompson led a research team that obtained magnetic resonance image (MRI) scans from the brains of the same people over a five-year period. The MRI scans were from 12 children with schizophrenia (average age, 13.9 years; six boys, six girls) and 12 healthy children (average age, 13.5 years; six boys, six girls). All of the children with schizophrenia displayed symptoms by the age of 12 years.

Compared to the brain scans of healthy children, scans from children with schizophrenia showed tissue loss in the sensory cortex, parietal cortex, temporal cortex, frontal cortex and supplementary motor cortex. The loss of brain tissue started in the parietal lobe and as the children grew, the damage spread to frontal and temporal areas. The amount of tissue lost in the temporal lobe was associated with the severity of symptoms (e.g., hallucinations, delusions) shown by the children.

Images used with permission of the Slice of Life.

These data illustrate the type of brain damage that occurs early in the development of schizophrenia. It is now important to identify what triggers these changes and to discover new ways to prevent, treat and cure this illness.

Reference: Thompson, P.M., Vidal, C., Giedd, J.N., Gochman, P., Blumenthal, J., Nicolson, R., Toga, A.W. and Rapoport, J.L. Mapping adolescent brain change reveals dynamic wave of accelerated gray matter loss in very early-onset schizophrenia. Proc. National Acad. Science, 98:11650-11655, 2001

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