Scientists can scan brains for maturity, potentially gauging child development

Scientists have developed a scan that can measure the maturity of the brain, an advance that someday might be useful for testing whether children are maturing normally and for gauging whether teenagers are grown-up enough to be treated as adults.

A federally funded study that involved scanning more than 12,000 connections in the brains of 238 volunteers ages 7 to 30 found that the technique appeared to accurately differentiate between the brains of adults and children and determine roughly where individuals scored in the normal trajectory of brain development.

While much more work is needed to validate and refine the test, the technique could have a host of uses, including providing another way to make sure children’s brains are developing properly, in the same way doctors routinely measure other developmental milestones. The scan could, for example, identify children who might be at risk for autism, schizophrenia and other problems because their brains are not maturing normally.

Reported by Rob Stein
Washington Post

Submitted by Anna

Neonatal Vitamin D Status May Predict Schizophrenia Risk

Both low and high levels of neonatal vitamin D may increase risk for the eventual development of schizophrenia, according to a population-based case-control study of 848 patients in Denmark.

“Vitamin D during early life is associated with altered brain growth [due to] good evidence from animal studies and now this new link from the Danish study,” John J. McGrath, MD, PhD, professor at the Queensland Brain Institute at the University of Queensland in St. Lucia, Australia, told Medscape Medical News.

Therefore, “we need to think about prenatal vitamin D supplements for women at risk of low vitamin D,” said Dr. McGrath.

He was surprised, though, about the link with high levels. “The results were curious; we found what we predicted [that lower neonatal vitamin D level was associated with higher risk for schizophrenia], but also we got a hint that there might be a subgroup of babies who are mildly resistant to vitamin D,” he said. For this area, “more work needs to be done.

Reported by Deborah Brauser

Submitted by Anna

Better Outcomes With Antipsychotics Plus Psychosocial Treatment for Early Schizophrenia

Combining antipsychotic medication with psychosocial treatment leads to better outcomes for patients with early-stage schizophrenia compared with antipsychotics alone, according to a new randomized controlled trial from China.

The improved outcomes included lower rates of treatment discontinuation and relapse, lower rates of nonadherence, and improved quality of life and social functioning, write the researchers.

Reported by Deborah Brauser

submitted by Anna

Autism and Schizophrenia: Family History May Not Always Be a Good Indicator

An international study led by University of Montreal scientists suggests family history may not be a good predictor of the presence of mutations predisposing to autism or schizophrenia.

The findings show how new or de novo gene mutations — alterations of the cell’s DNA — play a role in these devastating conditions. Published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, this study has implications for disease prevalence and severity.

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by University of Montreal

Philip Awadalla et al. Direct Measure of the de novo Mutation Rate in Autism and Schizophrenia cohorts. American Journal of Human Genetics, 2010; DOI: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2010.07.019

Submitted by Anna

Mental illness alone not linked to violence

Mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder alone do not make people more violent, but the tendency of people with psychiatric problems to abuse drugs or alcohol does, scientists said on Monday.

Experts have long sought to understand the link between mental illness and violence and these findings suggest that the widespread public perception that psychiatric disorders alone make people more prone to violent crime is flawed.

Researchers from Britain and Sweden who studied rates of violent crime among people with severe mental disorders said it appeared that the higher risk of substance abuse is the key.

They found that while rates of violent crime are higher among people with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia than in the general population, they are similar in people with mental illness and those who abuse substances but are not mentally ill.

Reported by Kate Kelland

Submitted by Anna

Polypharmacy Is Common in Psychiatry, But Is More Better?

A study of antidepressant and antipsychotic treatment effects showed there is an emphasis on “polypharmacy” in clinical practice, without much evidence of benefit and an increase in adverse effects. Swiss investigators reported these findings at the 23rd European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Congress.

“In our study, we found no advantages for ‘complex’ treatment approaches over conventional monotherapeutic approaches,” said senior investigator Hans H. Stassen, PhD, of University Hospital of Psychiatry in Zurich, Switzerland, in an interview during the meeting. “There appear to be no controlled studies showing the superiority of combinations of drugs over monotherapy. We looked at this because we have observed in clinical practice that response rates are less and side effects are greater. We believe that the issue of polypharmacy in psychiatric practice deserves more scientific attention.”

Treatment with antidepressants and antipsychotics, though effective, is unspecific in a number of ways, the study authors pointed out. For instance, agents that differ greatly in their biochemical and pharmacological actions can have virtually the same efficacy, patients with initial improvement often show incomplete response, and many patients are clinically refractory to all treatments. As a strategy for overcoming this unsatisfactory situation, polypharmaceutical approaches have gained favor in recent years. Today’s “standard” treatment regimens rely on various combinations of antidepressants, antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, anxiolytics, hypnotics, analgesics, antiparkinson drugs, cardiovascular agents, and other somatic treatments, the study authors noted.

Reported by Caroline Helwick

Submitted by Anna

EEG Testing May Predict Clozapine Response in Treatment-Resistant Schizophrenia

Electroencephalography (EEG) testing may be able to predict response to clozapine in patients with treatment-resistant schizophrenia a new pilot study suggests.

In fact, the response prediction accuracy rate was over 85% during both the first part of the study, where a computer algorithm was “trained” using brainwave patterns from a group of clozapine-naive patients, and during the second part, where additional patients were tested, report researchers from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

“We found that certain brainwave patterns, particularly in the back half of the brain on the left side, seem to be predictive of whether a person would respond to clozapine or not,” study coauthor Gary Hasey, MD, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at McMaster and director of the Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Laboratory and the Mood Disorders Program at St. Joseph Hospital, told Medscape Medical News.

Reported by Deborah Brauser

Submitted by Anna

In India, Stigma Of Mental Illness Hinders Treatment

In India, people with severe mental illnesses often turn to temples and shrines, not to doctors. Some social workers are trying to change this by focusing their efforts on India’s schools.

Reported by Miranda Kennedy

submitted by Anna