martes, 6 de julio de 2010

Brain patterns could reveal if children will go on to develop mental illness

Many people who go on to develop mental health problems will have a history of behavioral problems going back to childhood. Now brain patterns could offer further insight (posed)
British scientists have found specific patterns of brain activity in children that could be 'markers' of those who will develop mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.

Researchers from Nottingham University said it may be possible to one day use this information to find youngsters at risk of becoming ill before they develop symptoms.

'If we can identify people who are at particularly high risk of developing schizophrenia, perhaps using neurocognitive brain markers, then we might be able to reduce that risk and also help them to function better,' said study leader Dr Maddie Groom.

'If we give them a better start, they may encounter the illness in a more positive way and not get quite so ill.'

Hundreds of millions of people worldwide are affected by mental, behavioral and neurological illnesses such as schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, epilepsy and dementia.

Many people who go on to develop diverse mental health problems will have a history of behavioral problems going back to childhood, but it is difficult to say early on which children will develop them.

In one study, Dr Groom and her colleagues investigated looked at the healthy siblings of people with schizophrenia, who also have a very slightly increased risk of developing schizophrenia compared with the general population.

Using brain imaging to read activity levels, the scientists asked the siblings to perform task which involved playing an alien-zapping computer game in which they needed to respond quickly, and crucially, halt the urge to respond if the wrong kind of alien popped up. The task was called a 'go, no-go' task.

'When we measured the brain activity of the siblings of people with schizophrenia, their brain activity was reduced at the time when they needed to pay attention to the stimulus, and when they needed to inhibit their response,' Dr Groom explained.

She said this suggested the subtle differences in brain activity may act as a risk marker for the disorder.

Lucie Russell, Campaign Director for mental health charity Young Minds, said: 'The possibility of studying brain activity to predict the risk of young people developing mental illness could be really useful in preventing the suffering mental health problems cause to thousands of young people.

'However, as with the criticisms of gene testing we risk labelling children and young people.

'We also must not forget the vital importance of a stable and loving family background on a child’s wellbeing and how emotional and physical abuse can have a devastating effect on their mental health.’

In a second study, scientists compared brain activity of children with ADHD - a mental disorder that affects up to 12 per cent of children and four per cent of adults worldwide.

The researchers used the same "go, no-go" task in various scenarios, including when the children were taking their medication, Ritalin, and when they were not, and then using an additional system of rewards and penalties.

Dr Groom's results showed that children who were taking medication, and children given an incentive, performed better than those who had neither medicines nor incentives.

This suggests, Groom said, that doctors may be able to find new ways to treat children with ADHD using a combination of behavioral strategies and drugs.

The team presented their study at the Forum for European Neuroscience in Amsterdam.

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