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Schizophrenia & the Brain

Learn how schizophrenia affects the brain from psychiatrist Jeanie Tse in this Howcast video.


Hi. I'm Jeanie Tse, and I'm here to talk to you about schizophrenia and the brain.

So there are a couple of things that we see in brain development for people with schizophrenia. One area we have learned some things about is the neurotransmitters, or the chemicals in the brain that are involved in schizophrenia. A lot research tends to be focused on dopamine and acetylcholine.

So, dopamine was initially a focus of research because earlier anti-psychotic medications were all dopamine blockers. And so, we knew that if you blocked dopamine in the brain some of the positive symptoms, like delusions or hallucinations, would subside or go away. And so, we know that that's implicated. Acetylcholine seems to be involved in interacting with the dopamine, but also independently in some of the symptoms of schizophrenia.

We're doing a lot of research, too, on the structure of the brain in schizophrenia. What we know is that the cortex of the brain, or the grey matter in the brain, is thinner in people with schizophrenia, and that there seems to be a lower volume of brain tissue, and decreases in brain volume over time. And things that contribute to those brain decreases in volume include both the number of relapses that somebody might have on schizophrenia, so the amount of times that they get sick, but also the medications that we use to treat schizophrenia may decrease brain volume.

So, it's a bit of a catch-22. And our science is so crude that we don't necessarily know what these decreases in volume represent. However, we know that both the disease and it's treatment may decrease volumes, which is bad news. Lots more research needs to be done about this.

There's been some research, too, as to the relationship between head injury and schizophrenia. This is still largely inconclusive. We don't know for sure that if you've had a head injury you're going to be more likely to develop schizophrenia, or that effects your prognosis. But we know that head injury has many effects on thinking and mood and behavior.

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