NeuRA Magazine #19

Schizophrenia research


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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Cortical activity during balance tasks in ageing and clinical groups using functional near-infrared spectroscopy

Prof Stephen Lord, Dr Jasmine Menant Walking is not automatic and requires attention and brain processing to maintain balance and prevent falling over. Brain structure and function deteriorate with ageing and neurodegenerative disorders, in turn impacting both cognitive and motor functions.   This series of studies will investigate: How do age and/or disease- associated declines in cognitive functions affect balance control? How is this further impacted by psychological, physiological and medical factors (eg. fear, pain, medications)? How does the brain control these balance tasks?     Approach The experiments involve experimental paradigms that challenge cognitive functions of interest (eg.visuo-spatial working memory, inhibitory function). I use functional near-infrared spectroscopy to study activation in superficial cortical regions of interest (eg. prefrontal cortex, supplementary motor area…). The studies involve young and older people as well as clinical groups (eg.Parkinson’s disease).   Studies Cortical activity during stepping and gait adaptability tasks Effects of age, posture and task condition on cortical activity during reaction time tasks Influence of balance challenge and concern about falling on brain activity during walking Influence of lower limb pain/discomfort on brain activity during stepping   This research will greatly improve our understanding of the interactions between brain capacity, functions and balance control across ageing and diseases, psychological, physiological and medical factors, allows to identify targets for rehabilitation. It will also help identifying whether exercise-based interventions improve neural efficiency for enhanced balance control.