This is the kind of study that underscores what psychiatric epidemiology already tells us: family history is the best predictor of risk for mental disorders. The details however are fascinating.
To investigate brain networks, the researchers applied advanced analyses techniques to the fMRI data to investigate how brain regions dynamically communicate with each other. The study demonstrated that children at risk for the illness are characterized by reduced network communication and disordered network responses to emotional faces. This suggests that brain developmental processes are going awry in children whose parents have schizophrenia, suggesting this is a subgroup of interest to watch in future longitudinal studies.
“Brain network dysfunction associated with emotional processing is a potential predictor for the onset of emotional problems that may occur later in life and that are in turn associated with illnesses like schizophrenia,” Diwadkar said. “If you clearly demonstrate there is something amiss in how the brain functions in children, there is something you can do about it. And that’s what we’re interested in.”
The results don’t show whether schizophrenia will eventually develop in the subjects. “It doesn’t mean that they have it, or that they will have it,” he said.
“The kids we studied were perfectly normal if you looked at them,” he said. “By using functional brain imaging we are trying to get underneath behavior.”