Schizophrenic Hallucinations Linked To Structural Brain Differences

First Posted: Nov 18, 2015 07:21 PM EST

A brain wrinkle found in the frontal lobes may be responsible for hallucinations in some cases of schizophrenia, according to a recent study.

Shorter paracingulate sulcus (PCS), a fold near the front of the brain, is linked to a 20 percent increased risk of both auditory and visual hallucination in patients.

This is one of the last folds in the brain to develop before a baby is born. With future studies, researchers believe that the difference in brain wrinkles may help to determine who's at risk for the psychiatric disorder early in life.

During the study, researchers analyzed 153 structural MRI scans of those diagnosed with schizophrenia and matched control participants, measuring the length of the PCS in each participant's brain. 

Findings revealed that patients diagnosed with schizophrenia had a 1 cm reduction in the fold's length that showed an increased likelihood of hallucinations by up to 20 percent. The effect was observed regardless of whether hallucinations were auditory or visual in nature, consistent with a reality monitoring explanation, researchers say. 

"Schizophrenia is a complex spectrum of conditions that is associated with many differences throughout the brain, so it can be difficult to make specific links between brain areas and the symptoms that are often observed," said Dr Jon Simons from the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge, in a news release. "By comparing brain structure in a large number of people diagnosed with schizophrenia with and without the experience of hallucinations, we have been able to identify a particular brain region that seems to be associated with a key symptom of the disorder."

Though Schizophrenia is not a common disorder--affecting an estimated 1 percent of the population--the serious and chronic condition has no cure, with symptoms ranging from delusions and lack of desire to form social relationships, blunted emotions, inability to hold a job or do day-to-day functions and potentially hallucinations.

The study is published in Nature Communications.

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