School of Medicine

Researchers identify brain abnormalities in people with schizophrenia

Theo van Erp, assistant professor in psychiatry and human behavior at UC Irvine
Tom Vasich/UC Irvine Strategic Communications
Theo van Erp, assistant professor in psychiatry and human behavior at UC Irvine.

Neuroimaging reveals structural differences in key centers of cognition, memory and emotion

Irvine, Calif., July 14, 2015 — Performing the largest structural brain meta-analysis to date for schizophrenia, an international team of scientists has identified structural brain abnormalities in patients with the disabling brain disorder, providing insight into how the condition may develop and respond to treatment.

The work was the outcome of the Schizophrenia Working Group in the Enhancing Neuroimaging Genetics through Meta-Analysis project (ENIGMA), which is co-chaired by Theo van Erp, assistant professor in psychiatry and human behavior at UC Irvine, and Jessica Turner, associate professor in psychology and neuroscience at Georgia State University.

Findings appear in Molecular Psychiatry

In the study, scientists at more than a dozen U.S. and European locations analyzed brain MRI scans from 2,028 schizophrenia patients and 2,540 healthy controls.

The team found that individuals with schizophrenia have smaller hippocampus, amygdala, thalamus, accumbens and intracranial volumes, and larger pallidum and ventricle volumes than controls; brain areas involved in memory, emotion, and reward.

“This collaborative work of 58 researchers marks a new era of open team science in applying neuroimaging methods to address questions in severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia,” van Erp said.

The ENIGMA collaborations include working groups for other mental disorders such as bipolar disorder, major depression, ADHD, autism, and addiction.

Van Erp added that the next step is to compare structural data across disorders to identify which brain region is the most affected in which disorder, to determine the effects of genetic variation, environmental factors, age and medication, and the associations with symptom profiles across these disorders.

“Ultimately, our advances in knowledge must lead to better treatment outcomes for patients, their families, and society as a whole,” he said.

— Tom Vasich, UC Irvine Strategic Communications