October 1, 2020

Pinpointing brain changes in psychosis

Specific regions of the thalamus — a central brain region — are smaller in adults with psychotic disorders and youth at risk for psychotic disorders and are associated with cognitive impairment.

The thalamus — a central brain region — is critical for cognitive function and has been implicated in psychotic disorders. 

Anna Huang, PhD, and colleagues analyzed the structure of the thalamus in neuroimaging studies of adults with psychotic disorders and youth with psychotic symptoms (at risk for developing a psychotic disorder) or other psychopathologies, compared with healthy adults and youth. 

They found that volumes of specific thalamic nuclei are smaller in adults with psychotic disorder and youth with psychotic symptoms, but not other psychopathologies, and that volume of the pulvinar correlated with overall cognitive ability in adults and youth. 

The findings, reported in the American Journal of Psychiatry, clarify the anatomical specificity of thalamic abnormalities in individuals with psychotic disorders and support a role for abnormal brain development in risk for psychosis. Identifying specific thalamic abnormalities may aid in early detection of psychosis risk and point to targets for treatment of psychosis and cognitive impairment in psychosis.

This research was supportecd by the National Institutes of Health (grants MH102266, MH115000, MH070560TR000445), the Charlotte and Donald Test Fund, and the Jack Martin, MD, Research Professorship in Psychopharmacology.