Evidence That Schizophrenia Is A Brain Disease

Evidence That Schizophrenia is a Brain Disease

Data from modern scientific research proves that schizophrenia is unequivocally a biological disease of the brain, just like Alzheimer's Disease and Bipolar Disorder. For one thing, schizophrenia is now known to be partially caused by genetics and to be inherited. For another, modern non-invasive brain imaging techniques such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Computerized Tomography (CT), have documented structural differences between schizophrenic and normal brains. Individuals with schizophrenia have up to 25% less volume of gray matter in their brains, especially in the temporal and frontal lobes (known to be important for coordination of thinking and judgment). Patients demonstrating the worst brain tissue losses also tend to show the worst symptoms.

Functional scanning of the brain, using technologies like Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and functional MRI have made it possible to create real-time maps of regional cerebral blood flow and metabolism, providing another window into how schizophrenic brains are distinct from normal brains. Such studies tend to show low levels of activation in schizophrenic patients' middle frontal cortex and inferior parietal cortex compared to normal people included as control subjects. Low activity findings like this are also correlated with (related to) increased negative symptoms (meaning that people who tend to have more negative symptoms, also tend to show lower levels of brain activity in key brain areas).

Schizophrenic brains are thus (on average) different in terms of total tissue volume, and activity. However, there is most often no obvious single point of structural damage (a "lesion") to point at as the specific location in the brain where schizophrenia is happening.

In addition to structural differences, schizophrenic brains also show neurochemical differences when compared with normal brains. The brain uses a number of chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, to communicate among its millions of individual neurons. At the most basic level, schizophrenic brains appear to be differentially sensitive to the neurotransmitter dopamine compared to normal brains. The "dopamine hypothesis" of schizophrenia holds that schizophrenia is caused by excess dopamine (or excessive sensitivity to dopamine). Support for this hypothesis comes from several main sources. First, drugs known to block the effects of dopamine in the brain are also known to be useful as antipsychotic medications (they reduce the intensity and frequency of hallucinations, for example). Second, stimulant drugs like cocaine and methamphamine, which are known to either mimic the action of dopamine, or to cause dopamine to become more active in the brain, are know to be capable of causing hallucinations and delusions in non-schizophrenic people (if enough of those substances are taken). It is also known that too little dopamine is responsible for Parkinson's disease, and that chronic use of antipsychotic medications (which block dopamine) can result in a Parkinson's-like condition called tardive dyskinesia.

While the dopamine hypothesis has been dominant for a long time, it has taken a research beating in recent years, and it is no longer so clear that dopamine alone is responsible for causing schizophrenia. Today, it appears more likely that other neurotransmitters are involved in creating conditions for schizophrenia and psychosis, including serotonin (implicated in depression and anxiety), and glutamate (which is known to be implicated in the hallucinatory effects of the drug PCP ("angel dust"). Though the details of neurochemical involvement in schizophrenia change as new findings accumulate, the essential neurochemical basis of schizophrenia has been quite firmly established and would now appear to be beyond question.

Considered as a group and compared to normal people, schizophrenics show observable functional deficits as well. Functional deficits are problems people have in performing basic mental and physical tasks and activities such as remembering things, using executive functioning (being able to flexibly shift between various tasks, making judgment, etc.), intuiting rules from consequences, and hand grip strength. On average, schizophrenic people show reduced memory, attention span, executive functioning, and reaction time compared to normal people. They have relatively more difficulty recalling things they learned five minutes before than normal people, for example, but are equally able to recall long-term memories. They tend to be more distractable and have a harder time engaging in problem solving and planning efforts than do normal people.

Abnormalities in sensory processing are also evident in schizophrenic patients. It is common for schizophrenic patients to show 'soft' neurological signs, meaning that they might have difficulty distinguishing between two simultaneous touches or in being able to identify numbers drawn on the palm of their hand. They also tend to confuse the right and left sides of their bodies more frequently than normal people. Such well documented observations of sensory processing problems suggest impairments or irregularities in the way that schizophrenics' brains are wired.

Still more evidence of neurological impairment in schizophrenia comes from consideration of electroencephalogram (EEG) data, which are tests of brain electrical activity. About one-third of schizophrenic people show abnormal electrical brain impulses, also suggesting irregularities in the way schizophrenic brains are wired.

Considered as a whole, these numerous and methodologically distinct results suggest converging and compelling evidence for the idea that schizophrenia is basically a biologically based brain disease.

Comments
  • Barbara

    First let me say, that I really like this whole website. Thank you for putting it together ...

    What I do not understand is, how the research findings that you mention in this article prove that schizophrenia is CAUSED by a brain defect? I can easily see that that these results are CORRELATED with schizophrenia. For example, when someone is schizophrenic then his brain might look different, he might have problems to concentrate or a fMRT picture might look different.

    But how do these results show that these brain effects CAUSE schizophrenia? From the results that you presented it might follow as well that schizophrenia is CAUSED by a psychological problem (let`s say e.g. some schemas like in schema therapy) and the brain differences are and EFFECT of the psychological problems.

    Maybe I understand something wrong, just wondering ...

  • gabriel

    i am glad i am gifted by a diference.first of of all i need to thank my mother for caring me in this second birth.this is not a desease its a curse.i need help to live in dignity.pls help me

    1)this is the third time i am passing through sites on madness.my main problem is that i forgets that i am a mental patient

    2)after taking medicines i am good for nothing.i will sleep till noon and wake up as an idiot and good for nothing.if i didnt took the medication i wnt sleep at all.

    .................MADNESS HAS WINGS AND NO LIMITS TO FLY..................

  • Anonymous

    Google for "Schizophrenia caused by virus" or "Schizophrenia caused by traumatic stress" to find research just as solid as the nuerotransmitter theory that says

    a) Schizophrenia could be caused by a viral infection, possibly the disease that is transmitted from infected cat litter.

    http://cogweb.ucla.edu/ep/Schizovirus.html

    b)Two stressful events, first a traumatic event in childhood before or around age two, followed by an event later in life such as a traumatic separation from a significant other. These two events combine to result in a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder type of response, simillar to a soldier recalling being in battle when he hears a gunshot, or just generally being freaked out all the time.

    http://www.aaets.org/article33.htm

    http://www.scienceagogo.com/news/20060514024158data_trunc_sys.shtml

    c) The conspiracy theory. This is where the govt deliberately causes part 2 of b) to happen. Go to Youtube.com and search for COINTELPRO videos. The second video in the search results is Monarch Chapter 8.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJaDLhuNxi8

    This video talks about how it may be hard to tell if a person with schizophrenia who attempted suicide or thought of suicide was "flipped out" due to presure from COINTELPRO type tactics. Put the forced suicide stuff at the beginning of the video together with the very end of the video to get the complete picture. The microwaves that the end of the video talks about are not needed to accomplish this "forced suicide" stuff. Just some significant trauma in the right places can accomplish this.

  • Anonymous-1

    Schizophrenia has plague my mind ever since my teacher mentioned it. I always thought that mental disorders are only backed up by psychological explanations but it seems that it can also be explained scientifically.

    What i can't understand is how the sign and symptoms occur? what triggers them to come out? is it related to any brain abnormalities as well?

  • Blardy Blah

    Structural changes in the brain are a symptom, not cause. Chemical imbalances are a symptom, not cause.

    Do the structural differences in an Alzheimer brains CAUSE Alzheimers? Of course not.. and neither do they in Schizophrenics. As Barbara says further down, this correlative data..

    Humans had a million years of evolution to develop speech / social and cognitive centers in the brain - if the brain is starved of stimuli does it then create it's own? Sensory deprivation tanks are known to induce hallucinations.

    Problem: Social isolation, lack of social interaction, lack of pleasure giving activities and negative introspection all lower serotonin in the brain. Poor diet with lack of essential amino acid tryptophan, low levels of physcial activity, exercise contribute. Add lack of sleep and some stressors, and bang...

    I lived with a Schizophrenic parent for twenty plus years - all of the above applied. All treatments dealt with the symptoms, not cause..Different thinking is required.

    The answer is in the problem, not the symptoms...

  • gc/mom

    i have lived with my son who has schizoaffective disorder for 2 years. After observing him, and knowing he had a lot of the so called risk factors, drug abuse, trauma when an infant (seperation from mom due to severe post partum psychosis) and family members with mood disorder. he also has had head injury due to sports and motorcycle wreck. i seem to think the theory of a lot of factors combine to create the so called perfect storm is a very real probibility in some cases. love and luck to all with disease.

  • sharon

    Hi

    My son has just been diginosed with this dease and i am very afraid for his life most days he has had 18 years of a normal life and 2 years of crazyness and is is so hard to watch him slide this way I am unsure of the best things to do any more as the things i have always done no longer work Love always but it is hard for him to accept it Where would you reccomend a person look for answers first ?

  • chinelo

    Hello my name is Chinelo and I once suffered from schizophrenia. Yes you heard me right I 'once' suffered from it and now I am healed. My doctor gave me a cure to injest and take daily. The only requirement was to hope and it still is. I place my hope in my doctor and His name is Jesus Christ. I believe that He is the Son Of God and was beaten and bruised for my diseases so that I won't have to live in them. And so I took the dosage of reading the Bible daily and ingested it through believing every word and not doubting it. And so the girl who was diagnosed at the age of 13 around when she got her menstrual, and took medication(rispirdal, and abilify) up until the age of 18-is now in her right mind at the age of 19 turning 20 in Jan.-and guess what with my faith I stop taking medication(rispirdal 3mg) cold turkey the last time I saw my psychiatrist(July 2008)- when I was eighteen. And now I am enrolled in a community college and planning on transferring to a four year university away from home. I am not saying to go about getting off medication like I have(cold turkey) but I am saying that if it was not for the grace of Jesus Christ being crucified I would not have any hope to believe in and ultimately would not be healed. any questions then contact me via email.

  • Kris

    Lately I haven't been feeling anything at all. I feel like a zombie, an alien waking up from a comma, only existing to think and hear exactly what I'm thinking. I hear my inner voice in my head. My concious and subconcious thoughts are rolled into one, sometimes agreeing, most of the time arguing. Constant brain damage only getting worse as the days drift by, my mind only destroying itself for the lack of better cause. Centered and controlled while alone, the worst is being around conscious beings. It deeply saddens me to hear evil unormal thoughts, very unnesecary thoughts that any normal person would never think of. If not bad enough to think and hear weird thoughts, but it's as though anyone I'm around at the time reacts very acurately in terms of the general idea. People consistantly describe my mood and thoughts unknowingly. Its as if people truly can comunicate without words, telepathy is what I'd describe everyone as, some are more advanced than others.

    I can still see the reality that every normal brain sees, I do see somethings far more than what they are it seems.

    My mothers a schizco, and I'm afraid that I may have awakened my latent schizcophroenia traits with experimental psychadellics(mushrooms, LSA). I began to feel different after my first mushroom trip I had a little over a year ago. Conciousness has been unravellilng to this day, I wish to be back in the concious state that eveyone else is in. Where I was before I did psychadellics, it's almost as if I'm permatripping if thats possible.

    I'm 20 years old almost 21, I don't want to live like this anymore. I am very uncomfortable around people I don't know or trust, I can keep nothing to myself. I am still only on my first year of whatever it is i'm going through. If there are ways to prevent this disease without meds please let me know. They are the last method I want to resort to.

    Weed seems to help when I'm alone, but makes it a bad trip while around anyone. Uppers also bring me back to conciousness(no inner voice!). I may be crazy, I may be stuck somewhere between the concious and subconscious, more likely just crazy. Let me know if there are any loop holes.

  • Tenesia Robinson

    Greetings,

    I am deeply greatful for the courage you have all displayed in sharing your pain. I have lived with the disease in silence for the past 19 years. This is the first time that I am speaking out. It has caused me to have 1 abortion and to allow the miscarriage of another child. I gave up a career in the military for fear that the government is causing the illness and have abused alcohol for the entire 19 years. I have had several episodes in public places like the processing center in the military, wal mart, etc. My episodes consisted of me thinking everyone was talking about me and taunting me, so I started loud talking saying that if anyone has anything to say to me to let me know.....I am now 37 and I will be having my third child in December and I am married to a younger very healthy man. (whom most women lust after) I am raising one 18 month old daughter with cerebal palsy and a 2 year old. I got certified as a nursing assistant and I will be going to school after the baby to be a registered nurse. The only medicine, my faith in myself..............I have always believed that I could do anything that I put my mind to and I have been determined to beat this disease..............You beautiful, beautiful people please believe that your mind can be controlled by your will to live peacefully. It is a long difficult road but, it can be done!!!!

  • Anonymous-2

    This article simply contain FALSE CLAIMS!

    For example:

    1. "Data from modern scientific research proves that schizophrenia is unequivocally a biological disease of the brain"

    That is not true! This is false!

    2. "the essential neurochemical basis of schizophrenia has been quite firmly established and would now appear to be beyond question."

    That is not true! We still don't know the basis, and this statement does not represent the position of the scientific community what so ever!

    What is true? Well! One of the most reliable sources is National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. http://www.nice.org.uk/nicemedia/pdf/CG82FullGuideline.pdf

    This guideline fully describes the true state of our knowledge today! For example: Look up page 21-22, where the Possible causes of schizophrenia is described. It says:

    "The possible causes of schizophrenia are not well understood. Research has attempted to determine the causal role of biological, psychological and social factors. The evidence does not point to any single cause. Increasingly, it is thought that schizophrenia and related psychoses result instead from a complex interaction of multiple factors (Broome et al., 2005 Garety et al., 2007). Much of the research evidence on the aetiology of schizophrenia is consistent with the long-standing ‘stress-vulnerability‘model (Nuechterlein & Dawson, 1984). This paradigm suggests that individuals possess different levels of vulnerability to schizophrenia, which are determined by a combination of biological, social and psychological factors. It is proposed that vulnerability results in the development of problems only when environmental stressors are present. If there is great vulnerability, relatively low levels of stress might be sufficient to cause problems. If there is less vulnerability, problems develop only with higher levels of stress. The model is consistent with a wide variety of putative causes of the disorder, as well as the differential relapse and readmission rates observed among people with schizophrenia. Recent research has therefore attempted to specify more precisely the nature of any vulnerability and of types of environmental stress. This includes biological hypotheses about brain biochemistry and pathology (Broome et al., 2005), and attempts to identify genes that confer susceptibility (Craddock et al., 2005). Biochemical theories have centred mainly on the ‘dopamine hypothesis‘, for which there is enduring support (Kapur, 2003). This argues that schizophrenia might be related to problems in the regulation of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the pre-frontal cortex. Psychological factors can be divided into problems with basic cognitive functions, such as learning, attention, memory, or planning, and biases in emotional and reasoning processes. Problems in cognitive function are related to research in brain structure and function, while emotional processes may be linked to social factors. Studies of psychological factors thus provide a bridge between biological and social theories. Both types of psychological factor have been implicated in the development of symptoms of schizophrenia (Frith, 1992 Gray et al., 1991 Green, 1992 Hemsley 1993 Garety et al., 2001 2007). Recently depression and anxiety, which were previously considered unimportant by researchers, have been found to contribute to the symptoms of schizophrenia (Freeman & Garety, 2003 Birchwood, 2003 Krabbendam & van Os, 2005). Recently there has been a resurgence of interest in investigating social and environmental factors. Evidence has been accumulating to suggest that urban birth and rearing, social adversity and trauma, heavy cannabis use, migration and stressful life events all increase the risk of schizophrenia (Arseneault et al., 2004 Bebbington et al., 2004 Moore et al., 2007 Read et al., 2005 van Os et al., 2005). There is now consistent evidence that migrant populations experience raised rates and especially high rates have been found among certain minority ethnic groups (Cantor-Graae & Selten, 2005 Kirkbride et al., 2006). It is thought that this is most likely related to the high rates of social adversity and family disruption experienced by some migrant populations (Selten & Cantor-Graae, 2005 Fearon et al., 2006)."

    Kind Regards

    Nyverden

  • Anonymous-3

    iam having a tablet named rapitry prescribed by Doctor.Is this for Schizophrenia?

  • Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

    This is a very painful topic for those suffering from schizophrenia and their families. What we want to make clear is that medical science is looking for a deeper understanding of schizophrenia so that a real cure will become available.

    A cure is needed because schizophrenia is so very destructive to an individuals ability to successfully function and live life happily.

    Perhaps the word "disease" is not the accurate term for schizophrenia because we don't know that it is caused by a virus and the word "disease" implies some type of infection or virus.

    However, we do know from fMRI and other studies of the living brain, something made available only in very recent times, is that the brain of a person with schizophrenia is not operating as it is supposed to as compared to the brains of people who do not have the illness. For example, there is evidence that the brain cells, called neurons, are not properly shaped and able to function, in the ways they were meant to. That is why people with schizophrenia experience such symptoms as delusions and hallucinations.

    The main point is to stress the fact that there is a very active and serious search for understanding of and finding a cure for schizophrenia.

    Our intent is not to insult or cause harm to any person but to disseminate information to the best of our abiities.

    I hope this helps.

    Dr. Schwartz

  • Jodi

    May i firstly say that the use of language in this article is awful. The comparing of 'schizophrenics' to 'normal' people serves only to further isolate those in need of support. Furthermore what's 'normal' anyway? I think the whole article is latent in demoralising and stigmatising rhetoric and is basically a load of outdated nonsense.

    Im training to be a social worker, and i am of the opinion that in 40years time (hopefully less) we will look back and be ashamed of how we have treated those who are suffering from mental health problems. Schizophrenia is not a disease, it seems it consists of no particular symptoms, it has no particular outcomes, responds to no particular treatment, and has no particular cause (Bental, 1998).

    There are still lots of inconsistencies and gaps in research surrounding the existence of schizophrenia, and i am of no set opinion. I just think that it is best to get a balanced view and not take such a medical model approach. I have come across a couple of interesting websites and documentaries whilst i have been reading into the subject, that may help some people on here.

    It is key to remember that RECOVERY IS ABSOLUTELY POSSIBLE, and a lifetime on drugs isn't the only answer.

    Have a look at:

    http://www.caslcampaign.com/index.php

    and also a documentary on youtube called 'the doctor who hears voices'. Really interesting viewing.

    Peace & merry christmas.

  • sue

    Thanx for this great website it is very informative. I have suffered with schizophrena on & off for some years now & feel the need to talk to other ppl who are experiencing this dibilitating condition. I have been in hospital & am now trying to live outside with my family i am taking medication and sometimes feel that the sideaffects are not worth it but then the voices have stopped so it is a catch 22 situation. I am scared as i do not know if the symptoms will get worse and after reading this article on schizophrenia it is starting to make sense to me poor problem solving skills and planning have plagued me all my life and now it could have been due to having something i did not know about. Good luck to all as the scientists still have to study and research this very unusual life altering condition.

  • Anonymous-4

    Please note this article is very misleading and quite wrong, it really should not be used as a serious conclusive study for any person that is looking for answers or seeking help for any form of mental health issue.

    There are many articles like this on the web,which can 'sound' like authentic studies, but the best place to find answers or help is the NHS site, under the heading 'mental health'.

    I hope this helps and wish you luck

  • Anonymous-5

    I don't know about most of you but I find this article very interesting. I too suffer with Paranoid Schizophrenia and I think its wonderful that science has started making some leaps in finding out what is going on in the brain. To simply dismiss this article as false and with no value, shows how some people are stubborn when it comes to new ideas. Please don't be diverting me to other links in what you feel is better info, this was recommended by a professional himself to read. I am very set in stone to belief Schizophrenia IS a disease. This article was well written and had alot of truths behind it.

  • kevin

    sure studies show that the brains of those with schizophrenia are different. the treatments for schizophrenia do produce structural and chemical changes in the brain, animal studies show this. there are not really any studies that show the drug naive brains of people with schizophrenia. so how can we tell it is not the treatments that cause damage?

  • Nwakego

    Pls help,can a person who suffers from this disoder marry and live an almost normal life?afterall fews things are normal in this life.am in love with a sufferer and would want to do all i can to help allievate his pains.

  • Cares

    I agree with Jodi in her post where she states and I quote her:

    Quote: "The comparing of 'schizophrenics' to 'normal' people serves only to further isolate those in need of support. Furthermore what's 'normal' anyway? I think the whole article is latent in demoralising and stigmatising" End quote.

    Information is good, but let's not forget to add to any information that first and foremost all are "human beings." Let us not forget that support and ways to deal with any condtion is very important.

    I have read a bit on the matter of what schizophrenia is and if it really can be proven, but I for one am not satisfied with the information I have read and I choose to look for ways to treat and deal with the symptoms of any condition or issues any person may struggle with daily. Science is important I don't dispute this, but people are people first. Never forget the person and no one has a right to say who is normal or not normal. It is society who does this and it's wrong perhaps we're all guitly of it at times.

    God would never do this and I believe that God knows best.

  • nivre

    I just wanted to add something to this list. I found an article that shows that particles have been found in the spinal fluid of schizophrenics. The link is bellow.

    Mystery Particle in Schizophrenics

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/2212766.stm

  • Anonymous-6

    I strongly advise anyone that has paranoid schizophrenia to use medication regardless of the side effects. My psychiatrist tried 12 different medications on me until we found the right one. I know that if I would have turned my back on using medication that I would have hit rock bottom. I never used any drugs to make this happen to me, and my dad was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, whom never touched medication at all, and he got worse and worse until he trully believed that he was god. I believe that this is a genetic disease. I know that when I was younger I fell out of trees a number of times because I loved climbing, so I hit my head pretty hard many. I know that it can be caused by head trauma. Think hard about self diagnosis because you will trully suffer if you continue to use no medication and think that you don't need it.

  • Kelly

    I can not come to terms with the number of people in the medical profesion who coin the phrase "Disease" in the wrong context.

    In the abscence of bugs, we simply do not understand how the brain works to say Schizophrenia is a Brain Disease.

    Old age is not a disease, yet many doctors pass comments as though it is.

    Is it a disease that some voters are all for the Conservative party while others are for Labour et al.? A football fanatic is suffering some form of mental disease?

    In context then, and until we know for certain, the problem is that Schizophrenia is a mental disorder. Anyone can have a disorder (a temporary fit of madness) or a mental breakdown. These are not diseases but are mental illnesses.

  • Mike Forson

    I strongly advise anyone that has paranoid schizophrenia to use medication regardless of the side effects. Wow are you sadistic.

  • Anonymous-7

    this study was probably funded by drug companis using highly chronic schizophrenics that have been ect many times and drugged very heavily for decades if you treat a normal person to the treatment of schizophrenia there brain would not be normal either

  • Steve Day

    What I find alarming about any claim to associate a mental disease with a chemical imbalance or abnormal wiring of thge brain, is trhat surely we must take in to account that any human being or animal for that matter, will, under circumstances of stress and anxiety, exhibit chemical imbalances and strange brain wirings !!!!

    This is not indicative of a brain disease or necessarily any mental illness, they are simply scared and in a hightened state of alert, and quite naturally will react in a way percieved to be irrational to a non-scared person.

    If a person is continually in this state then of course the neuron pathways are different and chemicals in the brain are different....this is a symptom of their state of being, not the cause!

  • Anonymous-8

    I have shizoeffective disorder. I believe the doctors. I know personally from my own experiences that it's not normal. I'm find just as long as I'm m taking my medication. These new ideas are foolish thinking. Your in denial if you don't think that this is not a defect. I'm neither conservative or Democratic. I just know what I have personally experienced. I have been suicidal and homicidal. I take this medication to protect myself and others.