Early Brain Development Issues Likely Contributor to Schizophrenia

By Catriona Bonfiglioli, AAP National Medical Correspondent

WELLINGTON, New Zealand, May 20 AAP - Problems with early brain
development, possibly in the womb, are emerging as the most convincing
root cause of schizophrenia, an international expert told psychiatrists
here today.

Dr Daniel Weinberger of the United States National Institute's of
Mental Health said there was a growing body of evidence that people who
develop schizophrenia in adulthood had a brain abnormality from their
earliest months of life.

Although the evidence was not conclusive, it pointed so strongly to
early brain development an international hunt had begun to find which part
of the brain could have a defect which would not cause problems until

One major study piggybacked on a massive British study which followed
the social, mental and movement development of every child born in
England, Scotland or Wales in one week in 1946 for 40 years.
The new study found people who later needed hospital treatment for
schizophrenia had been late developers as babies, being slightly slower to
sit, stand, walk, talk and teeth than average.

Although most babies who were late developers did not get
schizophrenia, the study pointed to very early problems in brain
development. "This study makes it very hard to argue that it's not brain development
that's the cause of it," he told the Royal Australian and New Zealand
College of Psychiatrists conference here today.

Dr Weinberger said there were about five other remarkable studies which
backed the finding that these people were behind the social and
educational pace long before they showed any signs of schizophrenia.
Other studies linked the illness to birth complications and flu during
pregnancy while brain scan studies found some parts of the brain were
smaller in twins with schizophrenia than in their healthy twins.
Rat studies found rats whose brains were deliberately damaged while
they were pups developed behavioural problems after rat puberty which
responded to one schizophrenia drug.

Rats bred to be easily distressed showed more exaggerated problems than
rats bred to be calm, which explains how genetic background could worsen
or negate the effects of the brain damage.
AAP cat/rp/ts