Significant Reduction in Gray Brain Matter Found in Individuals with Early Onset Psychosis, According to Study


A recent study conducted by the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience has discovered a link between a decrease in gray matter in the brain and early onset psychosis (EOP).

This groundbreaking study, published in Molecular Psychiatry, is the largest brain imaging study to date on EOP and has provided unprecedented insights into the illness. The research indicates that individuals with EOP have significantly lower volumes of gray matter across almost all regions of their brain, distinguishing it from other mental health disorders. The detailed mapping of these structural differences could potentially be used for future diagnosis and tracking the effects of treatment in patients with EOP.

EOP manifests before the age of 18 during a crucial period of brain development. Those diagnosed with this condition often experience severe and long-lasting symptoms that are less responsive to treatment. Despite the impact of EOP, previous research on the topic has been limited in sample size and statistical power.

The study involved an international collaboration, pooling brain scans from various countries including Norway, Spain, Canada, Italy, Australia, and the UK. The analysis of data revealed that individuals with EOP exhibited lower volumes of gray matter in nearly all brain regions when compared to the healthy control group. The most notable effect was observed in the left median cingulate—an area responsible for the processing and formation of emotions, learning, and memory.

Dr. Matthew Kempton, Reader in Neuroimaging Psychiatry at King’s IoPPN and senior author of the study, highlighted the significance of the findings, stating, “Early onset psychosis can have a devastating impact on a person’s life and well-being, but our understanding of the illness is still sadly relatively limited. This study, the largest neuroimaging analysis of EOP to date, used newly developed technologies to combine scans from different sites to examine hundreds of thousands of data points measuring volume in the brain.”

The study’s findings offer a detailed map that could serve as a diagnostic tool and potentially monitor the efficacy of treatments for EOP.

Further analysis of the data indicated that individuals who developed EOP at a later age exhibited lower volumes of gray matter in several small brain regions compared to those with an earlier age of onset.

Shuqing Si, the first author of the study from King’s IoPPN, explained the significance of gray matter and the study’s methodology, stating, “Gray matter’s primary purpose is to process information in the brain and plays a significant role in day-to-day functions like memory, emotions, and movement. This study used specially created software (ENIGMA-VBM) developed at King’s that can accurately map where there have been local increases and decreases in brain volume. It’s allowed our team to process significantly more data and has meant that our sample reflects brain scans from many parts of the world. The effectiveness of this software means we’re now investigating the brains of those with several other disorders.”

The study’s findings signify an important step forward in understanding and potentially diagnosing and treating early onset psychosis. As further research is conducted using advanced technology and increased sample sizes, more insights may be gained, ultimately improving outcomes for individuals affected by this debilitating condition.

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