Risk of psychotic disorders has disease-specific brain effects
Relatives of patients with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder have distinct brain abnormalities
Philadelphia, August 20, 2019 – Brain abnormalities in people at familial risk of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder emerge in unique patterns, despite the symptom and genetic overlap of the disorders, according to a study in Biological Psychiatry, published by Elsevier. Similarities between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder have led to the diagnoses being increasingly combined in studies of psychosis, but the findings highlight that risk for the disorders has distinct effects on the brain.
Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder tend to run in families, as relatives share genetic risk factors and exposure to life events that can increase risk of the disease, referred to as environmental risk factors. “We were interested in the relationship between this increased risk for schizophrenia or bipolar disorder and brain development,” said first author Sonja M.C. de Zwarte, MSc, University Medical Center Utrecht, The Netherlands.
Relatives of bipolar disorder patients had larger intracranial volumes–a measure that includes total brain tissue and cerebrospinal fluid–and relatives of schizophrenia patients had smaller brain volumes when compared with people without family history of these disorders.
“The size of intracranial volume is considered a marker for early brain development. Thus, our findings suggest that the familial risk for these disorders is influencing brain development already early in life, and in a different manner,” said Ms. de Zwarte.
The differences in brain development between the disorders will be an important consideration for future brain imaging studies of psychiatric disorders. “Recent focus on dimensional cross-diagnostic features of psychiatric disorders has deemphasized important complementary categorical distinctions. This imaging genomics study reminds us of the potential importance of these categorical distinctions,” said John Krystal, MD, Editor of Biological Psychiatry.
The researchers also found differences in brain anomalies when the participants were separated by their relationship with the patients, though no clear pattern developed based on relative type. First-degree relatives share about 50 percent of their genes, so the variation between the types of first-degree relatives suggests that environmental risk factors also contribute to the brain anomalies in family members.
The international collaborative study by researchers of the ENIGMA consortium was the largest examination of first-degree relatives of patients with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, including over 6,000 brain imaging datasets in a meta-analysis. The study emphasizes the usefulness of studying family members of people with psychiatric disorders to better understand how risk of the illnesses affects the brain, an approach that avoids the disease or medication effects that complicate studies of patients.
Notes for editors
The article is “The association between familial risk and brain abnormalities is disease-specific: an ENIGMA-Relatives study of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder,” by Sonja M.C. de Zwarte et al. (https:/
Copies of this paper are available to credentialed journalists upon request; please contact Rhiannon Bugno at Biol.Psych@sobp.org or +1 214 648 0880. Journalists wishing to interview the authors may contact Sonja M.C. de Zwarte, MSc, at a href=”mailto:email@example.com”>firstname.lastname@example.org.
The authors’ affiliations and disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available in the article.
John H. Krystal, MD, is Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine, Chief of Psychiatry at Yale-New Haven Hospital, and a research psychiatrist at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System. His disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available here.
About Biological Psychiatry
Biological Psychiatry is the official journal of the Society of Biological Psychiatry, whose purpose is to promote excellence in scientific research and education in fields that investigate the nature, causes, mechanisms and treatments of disorders of thought, emotion, or behavior. In accord with this mission, this peer-reviewed, rapid-publication, international journal publishes both basic and clinical contributions from all disciplines and research areas relevant to the pathophysiology and treatment of major psychiatric disorders.
The journal publishes novel results of original research which represent an important new lead or significant impact on the field, particularly those addressing genetic and environmental risk factors, neural circuitry and neurochemistry, and important new therapeutic approaches. Reviews and commentaries that focus on topics of current research and interest are also encouraged.
Biological Psychiatry is one of the most selective and highly cited journals in the field of psychiatric neuroscience. It is ranked 7th out of 146 Psychiatry titles and 12th out of 267 Neurosciences titles in the Journal Citations Reports® published by Clarivate Analytics. The 2018 Impact Factor score for Biological Psychiatry is 11.501. http://www.
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Rhiannon Bugno, Editorial Office
+1 214 648 0880
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