By Erica Evans
A study from the Stanford School of Medicine has revealed striking similarities in brain-matter loss of patients suffering from a variety of mental illnesses.
According to research findings, the brains of people with bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other anxiety-related illnesses all showed reduced gray matter in three specific brain structures.
Many view these psychiatric disorders as separate and distinct. However, those with experience dealing with such disorders will say that the differences are not always so clear.
But up until now, many scientists have focused on analyzing individual disorders rather than mental illness as a whole.
“We tried to ask a basic question that hasn’t been asked: Is there any common biological basis for mental illness?” senior author Amit Etkin, M.D., Ph.D., said in a press release.
The Stanford researchers compared the images of 7,381 brains diagnosed with one of the six categories of the aforementioned brain disorders to 8,511 images of healthy brains.
In the end, the doctors were able to conclude that the presence of all of tested mental disorders correlated with significantly reduced volumes of the left anterior insula, right anterior insula and dorsal anterior cingulate structures of the brain.
The function of these specific structures relates to tasks such as planning, concentrating despite distractions, decision making and resisting counterproductive impulses.
“They work together, signaling to other brain regions when reality deviates from expectations — that something important and unpredicted has happened, or something important has failed to happen,” Etkin said.
Though the study conclusively determined the similarity of reduced gray matter in these three brain structures, it also discovered distinctions between certain illnesses relating to other parts of the brain.
Contact Erica Evans at elevans ‘at’ Stanford.edu