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Schizophrenia: The brain has the ability to rescue itself


A team of scientists have shown that the brains of patients with schizophrenia have the capacity to reorganize and fight the illness. This is the first time that imaging data has been used to show that our brains may have the ability to reverse the effects of schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is an illness generally associated with a widespread reduction in brain tissue volume. However, a recent study found that a subtle increase in tissue also occurs in certain brain regions.

The study followed 98 patients with schizophrenia and compared them to 83 patients without schizophrenia. The team used Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and a sophisticated approach called covariance analysis to record the amount of brain tissue increase. Due to the subtlety and the distributed nature of increase, this had not been demonstrated in patients before now.

According to Lawson Health Research Institute’s Dr. Lena Palaniyappan, there is an overarching feeling that curing people with a severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia is not possible.

“Even the state-of-art frontline treatments aim merely for a reduction rather than a reversal of the cognitive and functional deficits caused by the illness,” says Dr. Palaniyappan.

This comes from a long-standing notion that schizophrenia is a degenerative illness, with the seeds of damage sown very early during the course of brain development.

“Our results highlight that despite the severity of tissue damage, the brain of a patient with schizophrenia is constantly attempting to reorganize itself, possibly to rescue itself or limit the damage,” says Dr. Palaniyappan.

The team’s next step is to clarify the evolution of this brain tissue reorganization process by repeatedly scanning individual patients with early schizophrenia and study the effect of this reorganization on their recovery.

“These findings are important not only because of their novelty and the rigour of the study, but because they point the way to the development of targeted treatments that potentially could better address some of the core pathology in schizophrenia,” explains Dr. Jeffrey Reiss.

“Brain plasticity and the development of related therapies would contribute to a new optimism in an illness that was 100 years ago described as premature dementia for its seemingly progressive deterioration.”

Cortical thickness - schizophrenia

Dynamic cerebral reorganization in the pathophysiology of schizophrenia: a, MRI-derived cortical thickness study.
Image credit goes to: Lena Palaniyappan

“Dr. Palaniyappan and his colleagues have opened new avenues of research into our understanding of schizophrenia,” says Dr. Paul Links, Chair/Chief, Psychiatry, LHSC.

“Their findings may lead us to be able to harness the brain’s own compensatory changes in the face of this illness and improve recovery. We are excited that Dr. Palaniyappan will be continuing this important clinical research here in London with his international colleagues.”

Guo, S., Palaniyappan, L., Liddle, P., & Feng, J. (2016). Dynamic cerebral reorganization in the pathophysiology of schizophrenia: a MRI-derived cortical thickness study Psychological Medicine, 1-14 DOI: 10.1017/S0033291716000994


5 responses

  1. Curtis Meisling

    I know people who have been effected by schizophrenia so reading this is truly fascinating. I hope to hear more about this in the future and wish that researchers continue to study this matter. If a cure can be developed from this finding, I would be interested to see how the symptoms of the disorder would retract. Would delusions and hallucinations the slowly pass? Would it stop altogether? Would they always be present but not occur as often? Is everyone with the disorder effected the same way? With new medications constantly being developed, we can only hope further research is put into finding a cure.


    June 6, 2016 at 7:17 pm

  2. Elizabeth Hall

    As this research talks about the brains ability to retract its illness. I think this is a unique strand of research however I am not sure I can agree. Knowing what we do about schizophrenia itself, it quickly diminishes the brains tissue. Therefore if the brain was going to retract its illness, it would have to occur within the early stages. The brain would be too unhealthy and too unstable to do so later. Also would the brain being on medication for any period of time effect its ability to cure itself? I think it would be more difficult for the brain to try and cure itself while being on medication. I think it would stop the process. I think due to the demographics of schizophrenia patients, it is hard to develop a larger sample size and gain more research.


    June 7, 2016 at 6:36 pm

  3. Jaleigh Bugher

    One of the intermediate risk factors for schizophrenia is being infected by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii as a child. Although the parasite is only able to reproduce in cats, a child can contract the infection by coming in contact with the feces of the infected cat or by coming in direct contact with the cat. By contracting this infection, brain development is impaired. This impairment of the brain due to the parasite comes to make one believe that a underdeveloped brain cannot be repaired, which supports the information you shared in your blog post.


    June 8, 2016 at 12:26 pm

  4. Peggy

    I find it fascinating that the brain does not fully succumb to schizophrenia but is evolving in new ways to fight off new damage. Schizophrenia involves the deterioration of brain tissue. But after reading this blog, I feel hope knowing that the brain finds way of curing itself. I would desire to see the MRI of the brain function of a patient dealing with schizophrenia both on and off medication to compare results. I believe that the researchers are improving the expectation that those suffering from schizophrenia can use their own minds to lessen the impairment from later stages of the illness. A person who has this disorder may feel that all hope has withered until reading this piece, and they will now look at the disorder as a war to be won instead of a simple surrender.


    June 10, 2016 at 4:33 pm

  5. I think it is absolutely amazing how even with a severe mental illness such as schizophrenia the brain is constantly trying to save itself. It is extraordinary that the brain looks for new ways to repair the damage. I wonder how schizophrenic medications may interfere with the brains own effort to repair itself. Even though patients with schizophrenia continually experience brain tissue deterioration, I have hope that with upcoming research we will find better ways of treating this debilitating disease. Schizophrenia has always been a disease that has little to no hope for finding a cure. I think it is fascinating how the treatment or cure may lie in our own brains ability to protect itself.


    March 8, 2017 at 2:38 pm

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