Possible psychosis biomarker found in brain 'folding'

Doctors hoping to predict whether patients will respond to antipsychotic drugs could someday use levels of "folding" on the outside of the brain to assess their chances.

Researchers from King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry and colleagues made their conclusion, in part, based on a test involving MRI scans of 126 people's brains. Their paper in the journal JAMA Psychiatry details the results, and Reuters highlights major findings from the study.

The team's effort is promising but very early stage and will require more research and a wider patient testing pool in order to fully validate the initial result. But the researchers are hopeful, and they believe that the levels of brain "folds" known as "cortical gyrification" will become a potentially useful way to screen for patients who need treatment the most. What's more, they see this as opening the door to newer, more targeted treatments down the line. That would be a crucial advance for this class of patients, many of whom don't respond at all to the initial medicines they're prescribed, the Reuters story notes.

Out of those 126 brains subjected to MRI scans, 80 endured an initial psychotic episode prior to the test, according to the story, with the remaining 46 serving as the control group. Patients underwent MRI scans after their initial psychotic episode and then three months later to gauge whether antipsychotic drugs had any positive effect. When medication didn't work as well, patients had less gyrification, or brain "folding," in their cerebral cortex. This was particularly true in the temporal and frontal lobes--areas that affect psychotic behavior, the piece explains.

"We could envisage using a marker like this one to identify people who are least likely to respond to existing medications and focus our efforts on developing new medication specifically adapted to this group," lead researcher Paola Dazzan told the news service.

A final word on this potential biomarker may not be out for some time. But about 24 million people globally suffer from psychosis, according to World Health Organization data cited by the story. That number alone shows a clear market need for a biomarker that could help guide more targeted and effective treatments.

- read the Reuters piece
- here's the journal abstract

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