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Child Psychiatrist /Adult Psychiatrist

Brain Volume Patterns Vary Across Psychiatric Disorders

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

 An image of a glowing brain on a purple background.


A large brain imaging study of adults with six different psychiatric illnesses shows that heterogeneity in regional gray matter volume deviations is a general feature of psychiatric illness, but that these regionally heterogeneous areas are often embedded within common functional circuits and networks.

The findings suggest that "targeting brain circuits, rather than specific brain regions, may be a more effective way of developing new treatments," study investigator Ashlea Segal told Medscape Medical News.

The findings also suggest that it's "unlikely that a single cause or mechanism of a given disorder exists, and that a 'one-size-fits-all' approach to treatment is likely only appropriate for a small subset of individuals. In fact, one-size-doesn't-fit-all. It probably doesn't even fit most," said Segal, a PhD candidate with the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health's Neural Systems and Behaviour Lab at Monash University in Australia.

"Focusing on brain alterations at an individual level allows us to develop more personally tailored treatments," Segal added.

Regional heterogeneity, the authors write, "thus offers a plausible explanation for the well-described clinical heterogeneity observed in psychiatric disorders, while circuit- and network-level aggregation of deviations is a putative neural substrate for phenotypic similarities between patients assigned the same diagnosis."

The study was published online August 14 in Nature Neuroscience.

Beyond Group Averages

For decades, researchers have mapped brain areas showing reduced gray matter volume (GMV) in people diagnosed with a variety of mental illnesses, but these maps have only been generated at the level of group averages, Sega l explained.


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