NeuRA Magazine #19

Schizophrenia research

IQ CHANGE RELATED TO BRAIN VOLUME

Understanding the difference in IQ before and after the onset of schizophrenia could lead to more tailored treatments down the line.

Cognitive deficits in schizophrenia, although they can differ from person to person, are one of the core symptoms of the disorder. Earlier work from Associate Professor Tom Weickert’s lab proposed an IQ-based classification system, centred on IQ trajectories from before illness to after illness onset that could identify three distinct subgroups of schizophrenia.

These three subgroups included those who had a large and significant IQ decrease from before to after illness onset (called the deteriorated group); those whose IQ did not appear to change after illness onset staying around or above average before and after illness onset (called the preserved group); and those who displayed consistently low IQ levels before and after illness onset (called the compromised group).

A new study from the Schizophrenia Lab, has built on their earlier classification work by establishing whether these different intellectual subgroups are associated with any structural changes in the brain. The group examined differences in brain volume and were able to confirm that the IQ-based classifications are related to underlying neurobiological differences, and that distinct brain regions may be differentially affected in each subgroup.

The study found that the deteriorated group could be further divided into two subsets – moderately and severely deteriorated subgroups. The severely deteriorated subgroup had significantly reduced brain volume in regions of the brain important for memory, social cognition, language and visual processing, which correspond to more severe negative symptoms (reduced emotions, motivation and social interactions) in comparison to the preserved group.

Our recent findings on cognitive IQ-based subgroups provides a strategy to aid in the prediction of how each subgroup would respond to novel therapies to improve cognition and functional abilities in people with schizophrenia.

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Caress the Detail: A Comprehensive MRI Atlas of the in Vivo Human Brain

This project aims to deliver the most comprehensive, detailed and stereotaxically accurate MRI atlas of the canonical human brain. In human neuroscience, researchers and clinicians almost always investigate images obtained from living individuals. Yet, there is no satisfactory MRI atlas of the human brain in vivo or post-mortem. There are some population-based atlases, which valiantly solve a number of problems, but they fail to address major needs. Most problematically, they segment only a small number of brain structures, typically about 50, and they are of limited value for the interpretation of a single subject/patient. In contrast to population-based approaches, the present project will investigate normal, living subjects in detail. We aim to define approximately 800 structures, as in the histological atlas of Mai, Majtanik and Paxinos (2016), and, thus, provide a “gold standard” for science and clinical practice. We will do this by obtaining high-resolution MRI at 3T and 7T of twelve subjects through a collaboration with Markus Barth from the Centre for Advanced Imaging at the University of Queensland (UQ). The limited number of subjects will allow us to image each for longer periods, obtaining higher resolution and contrast, and to invest the required time to produce unprecedented detail in segmentation. We will produce an electronic atlas for interpreting MR images, both as a tablet application and as an online web service. The tablet application will provide a convenient and powerful exegesis of brain anatomy for researchers and clinicians. The open access web service will additionally provide images, segmentation and anatomical templates to be used with most common MR-analysis packages (e.g., SPM, FSL, MINC, BrainVoyager). This will be hosted in collaboration with UQ, supporting and complementing their population-based atlas.
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