A new brain imaging study from the UK's Institute of Psychiatry shows for the first time that the thalamus, the brain's main sensory filter or "hub," is smaller than normal from the earliest stages of schizophrenia.
The findings, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry for January, may explain why people with schizophrenia experience confusion during their illness.
The thalamus is the area in which information is received and relayed to other areas of the brain. It is of particular interest in schizophrenia because of the role it plays in processing information.
The thalamus receives information via the senses, which is then filtered and passed to the correct regions of the brain for processing. People with schizophrenia often have difficulties in processing information properly and as a result may end up with an information overload in some areas of the brain.
This study, led by Dr. Tonmoy Sharma, involved 67 participants: 38 were experiencing their first episode of psychosis and 29 were healthy volunteers. In contrast to other studies, thirteen of the people with schizophrenia had little or no experience of antipsychotic medication.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans identified differences in the thalamus between the two groups. Previous MRI studies have identified several brain regions affected by schizophrenia, but the results in the thalamus have been inconclusive.
This study finds that even in the earliest stages of schizophrenia, the thalamus is smaller than in healthy people.
The Institute of Psychiatry is based at the Maudsley Hospital and is part of King's College London.
[Contact: Dr. Tonmoy Sharma, Tracey Maher]