Folds in the brain found to be a predictor for psychosis

Researchers at Western University have found that studying the folds in the brain of high-risk patients can help predict who will go on to develop conditions such as schizophrenia.

Researchers collaborate with scientists in Switzerland to learn more about what could cause schizophrenia

The research was done in collaboration with scientists at the University of Basel in Switzerland. (Western University )

Researchers at Western University have found that studying the folds in the brain of high-risk patients can help predict who will go on to develop conditions such as schizophrenia. 

Scientists used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain to determine which patients showing symptoms of the mental health condition would go on to develop full-blown psychosis. 

The results were found to be more than 80 per cent accurate.

"Psychotic breaks happen usually out of the blue," said Dr. Lena Palaniyappan, associate professor at the Schulich School of Medicine and Robarts Research Institute. He is also an associate scientist at Lawson Health Research Institute.

"They can be very hard to predict and you might think because there's a family history some people might be more prone to it," he said.

Not necessarily so — instead, Palaniyappan said many relatives of a schizophrenia patient do not go on to develop the condition.

That's where the folds of the brain come in.

The unique capacity in humans is the complexity of how it is folded, he said. 

"Schizophrenia is also specifically human. You cannot make a rat or a dog or an animal develop schizophrenia. So we wanted to see a very human brain feature and relate it to a very human health condition," he said.

The research was done in collaboration with scientists at the University of Basel in Switzerland. 

Those researchers collected MRI data on 161 young people in Switzerland over a four year period. They learned that some patients might have symptoms of psychosis, such as hallucinations or delusions, but only one per cent will develop a long-standing disorder such as schizophrenia. 

The problem is there is no tool to pin-point who is at greatest risk.

This research hopes that will now change.

The London team of scientists will work to replicate the research using local patients with the goal of reversing the trajectory of the illness.

Palaniyappan is already working with the Prevention and Early Intervention in Psychosis (PEPP) clinic in London.

This research will focus on the prevention piece of the PEPP team's work rather than early intervention or treatment after someone has suffered a psychotic break.  

"Now we are open to see people even before they develop psychosis. If there are symptoms of pre-psychosis, we'll see if we can offer anything to prevent an episode of psychosis for you," Palaniyappan said.

The study was published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.