February 16, 2012

Memory intact in early psychosis

Brain deficits are not present in the early stages of schizophrenia, suggesting it may be possible to delay or prevent the development of brain abnormalities.


Patients with schizophrenia and psychotic bipolar disorder have widespread deficits in brain structure and function, but when these deficits appear and how they progress are open questions. Lisa Williams, Ph.D., and colleagues explored structure and function of the hippocampus, a brain region essential to memory and emotional processing, in patients in the early stage of psychotic illness.

The investigators trained early psychosis patients and healthy control subjects to perform a relational memory task (which requires the “binding” together of distinct memory elements). They tested the participants during a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan and measured hippocampal volume and activity. They found that many of the patients with early psychosis had normal hippocampal structure and function.

The results, reported in the Jan. 15 issue of Biological Psychiatry, provide evidence that some of the brain deficits found in chronic psychosis patients are not fully present in early stages of the disease. The findings provide a rationale for early intervention to delay, reduce or prevent memory deficits and hippocampal abnormalities.

This research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health.