July 26, 2006

Schizophrenia diagnosis gets help from the brain

UCSF researchers may have created a computerized diagnostic tool utilizing MRI based technology for determining whether someone has schizophrenia.

"Raymond Deicken at the University of California at San Francisco and colleagues have been studying the amino acid N-acetyl aspartate (NAA). They found that levels of NAA in the thalamus region of the brain are lower in people with schizophrenia than in those without.

To find out whether software could diagnose the condition from NAA levels, the team used a technique based on magnetic resonance imaging to measure NAA levels at a number of points within the thalamus of 18 people, half of whom had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Antony Browne of the University of Surrey, UK, then analysed these measurements using an artificial neural network, a program that processes information by learning to recognise patterns in large amounts of data in a similar way to neurons in the brain.

Browne trained his network on the measurements of 17 of the volunteers to teach it which of the data sets corresponded to schizophrenia and which did not. He then asked the program to diagnose the status of the remaining volunteer, based on their NAA measurements. He ran the experiment 18 times, each time withholding a different person's measurements. The program diagnosed the patients with 100 per cent accuracy."

This research is a great step in possible future diagnostic tools, and may eventually be used to help with early treatment. More research is needed though; this study had a very small sample size of only 17 people, and the assessment of other brain regions needs further analysis.

July 26th 2006. Originally cited from http://www.newscientist.com/


how can someone confirm that schizophrenia is a mental disorder without knowing the biological defect?

Posted by: ghvvjhg at July 31, 2006 09:10 PM

the biological defects have been the subject of intensive research especially in the last 4-6 yrs with better technology. the biological defects are known. what is not yet clear is what causes the biological defects themselves.

the term 'mental disorder', however, is misleading and unclear, and has been used for years without any clear concept of what exactly it means. for many people, the concept of mental illness is confused with social behavior, cultural norms and societal issues.

the terms 'mental illness' and 'mental disorder' have been used in a very loosely defined way, for conditions in which the person's behavior, emotions and thoughts are affected, and for which there is no obvious physical cause (such as substance abuse, brain tumor, outwardly obvious brain injury, etc).

for many years, 'mental illness' was viewed as possession, and later as a personal weakness, lack of morality or sinfulness. as time went on, the 'mental hygeine' movement came along and declared it was due to not living in the countryside, and hospitals in the countryside sprouted up in response.

each era and each culture has had its own idea about what caused 'mental illness'.

as time went on, one by one, various types of conditions, believed to be due to person failings, demons or whatever, peeled off 'mental illness' and became known as specific illnesses with specific causes. examples are epilepsy, syphillis and tourettes syndrome and obsessive compulsive disorder, all at one time thought to be 'mental illness'.

Posted by: slc2 at August 2, 2006 03:02 PM

Interesting news, thanks.
But there is a typo here:
The amino acid is not Nacetylaspartate, it is "N-acetylaspartate".

Posted by: CopperKettle at August 7, 2006 08:46 PM

N-acetyl aspartate, even. This gives the highest number of links in Google.

Posted by: CopperKettle at August 8, 2006 02:09 AM

Thanks CK, we've fixed it.


Posted by: Sz Administrator at August 8, 2006 08:51 AM

I've read a little on NAA and NAAG and struck upon some interesting facts. NAA plays a role in a neurodegenerative Conovan Disease. NAAG (and NAA?) deficits are implicated as a part of the "Glutamate theory" of schizophrenia, here is the article (2005):
"Central N-acetyl aspartylglutamate deficit: a possible pathogenesis of schizophrenia."
The link to PubMed is:
Link to the open-access PDF of the article:

Posted by: CopperKettle at August 10, 2006 12:52 AM

I'm mistaken. Not the "Conovan", but "Canavan" Disease:

Posted by: CopperKettle at August 10, 2006 12:55 AM

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