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University of Basel

09 August 2016

In Search of Neurobiological Factors for Schizophrenia

It is impossible to predict the onset of schizophrenic psychosis. If factors linked to a risk of psychosis can be identified, however, these may yield significant insights into its underlying mechanisms. Basel-based scientists have now established a link between particular genes and the size of important brain structures in individuals with an elevated risk of psychosis. The results of the study appear in the latest edition of the scientific journal Translational Psychiatry.

Hippocampus, brain, schizophrenia
Location of the hippocampus in the human brain: sagittal and axial view (from left to right) of the hippocampus (yellow) in an MRI. © Neuropsychiarty and Brain Imaging Group, Basel

Schizophrenic psychoses are a frequently occurring group of psychiatric disorders caused by a combination of biological, social and environmental factors. These disorders are associated with changes to the brain structure: for example, the hippocampus in the temporal lobe is usually smaller in affected individuals than in healthy ones. It is not yet known whether these changes to the brain structure are a result of the disorders and their accompanying medications, or whether they are already present before the onset of symptoms.

Together with a research group from the University of Basel, Fabienne Harrisberger and Stefan Borgwardt examined the brain structures of individuals exhibiting an elevated risk of psychosis, and those of individuals experiencing the onset of psychotic symptoms for the first time. Initially, scientists from the Adult Psychiatric Clinic of the University Psychiatric Clinics (UPK) and the Transfaculty Research Platform Molecular and Cognitive Neurosciences (MCN) observed no appreciable difference between the hippocampi of individuals at high risk and those of patients.

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