Schizophrenia, a brain disorder that produces hallucinations, delusions, and cognitive impairments, usually strikes during adolescence or young adulthood.
While some signs can suggest that a person is at high risk for developing the disorder, there is no way to definitively diagnose it until the first psychotic episode occurs.
“If we use these types of brain measurements, then maybe we can predict a little bit better who will end up developing psychosis, and that may also help tailor interventions,” said Guusje Collin, a visiting scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the USA.
Before they experience a psychotic episode, characterised by sudden changes in behaviour and a loss of touch with reality, patients can experience milder symptoms such as disordered thinking.
This kind of thinking can lead to behaviours such as jumping from topic to topic at random, or giving answers unrelated to the original question.
The researchers followed 158 people between the ages of 13 and 34 who were identified as high-risk because they had experienced early symptoms.
The team also included 93 control subjects, who did not have any risk factors. At the beginning of the study, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure a type of brain activity involving “resting state networks.”
One year after the initial scans, 23 of the high-risk patients were diagnosed with schizophrenia.
The researchers found a distinctive pattern of activity that was different from the healthy control subjects and the at-risk subjects who had not developed psychosis.