Scientists at Cambridge University have found a link with a particular furrow, near to the front of each hemisphere in the brain, and the likelihood of a schizophrenic to hallucinate
The researchers analysed 153 brain scans and found that this fold (known as the paracingulate sulcus) tends to be shorter in those people who hallucinate than in those that don’t. It’s one of the final folds to appear, and appears to have a role in helping our brains to distinguish real perceptions from those arising from our imagination.
Schizophrenia is a complicated condition, and while hallucinations are one of the main symptoms, some diagnoses occur as a result of other kinds of irregular thought processes. Rather than being attributed to a single region of the brain, changes are usually seen throughout several different areas. Thus being able to attribute such a key symptom as hallucinations to a specific part of the brain is quite a breakthrough.
The study included analysing structural MRI scans to access the physical dimensions of 153 brains; 113 of which belonged to people diagnosed with schizophrenia, while the remainder belonged to healthy control brains
The study, which was led by neuroscientist Jon Simons and published in the recent edition of Nature Communications, used data from the Australian Schizophrenia Research Bank to inform their conclusions. This included analysing structural MRI scans to access the physical dimensions of 153 brains; 113 of which belonged to people diagnosed with schizophrenia, while the remainder belonged to healthy control brains. The sample was chosen very carefully based on criteria such as having a history of hallucinations, while taking into account their age, sex, medications and whether they were left or right handed.
During the study, the researchers looked for differences in the paracingulate sulcus, as they already knew that the length of this fold is linked with our ability to monitor reality. This proved to be a successful strategy, with the patients who suffered from hallucinations having a paracingulate sulcus that was approximately 2cm shorter than the patients without hallucinations, and up to 3cm shorter than the healthy control group.
While further research needs to be carried out, it’s hoped that we may find ways to identify this difference before the onset of symptoms and thus enable physicians to offer extra support to people who may be at risk of developing schizophrenia.
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