According to an international team led by neuroscientists at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, subtle differences in the shape of the brain in adolescence are associated with the development of psychosis .
Psychosis is a general term for a constellation of serious mental disorders that make it difficult for people to determine what is real and what is not.
3,169 voluntary participants
This study collected structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) from 3,169 volunteer participants with an average age of 21 years who were recruited from 31 different institutions. About half (1,792 of the participants) had been determined to be at ‘high clinical risk of developing psychosis’. Of the high-risk participants, 253 developed psychosis within two years.
By looking at all the scans together, the team found that people at high risk for psychosis had overall lower cortical thickness, a measure of the thickness of the brain’s gray matter . In high-risk youth who later developed psychosis, a thinner cortex was more pronounced in various temporal and frontal regions.
The differences are too subtle to detect in an individual or to use for diagnostic purposes.
Still, the findings could contribute to ongoing efforts to develop a cumulative risk score for psychosis that would allow earlier detection and treatment, as well as targeted therapies.
Diagnosis usually occurs in late adolescence and early adulthood, but most of the time symptoms begin to manifest in adolescence .