Heightened blood flow in the brain linked to development of psychosis

  • Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A University of Roehampton scientist is part of a team which has identified a key mechanism in the brain which could be associated with the onset and development of psychosis.

Image - Heightened blood flow in the brain linked to development of psychosis

Using a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technique, Professor Paul Allen and a team at King’s College London found that 52 young people deemed to be at ultra-high risk of psychosis had increased or ‘hyperactive’ levels of blood flow, compared to 27 healthy people, in the hippocampus, striatum and midbrain - all brain regions that are particularly implicated in the onset of psychotic disorders like schizophrenia.

This study is one of the first in humans to confirm results from animal research. This has already shown that increased activity in these brain regions drives the development of psychosis.

In the study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry and funded by the Medical Research Council, Professor Allen and his team also repeated the MRI scans after 18 months to examine how blood flow levels had changed. In participants whose symptoms had resolved, the researchers found that resting blood flow levels in the hippocampus had decreased to the levels seen in healthy participants. This suggests that normalisation of blood flow in the hippocampus may underlie clinical improvement in these participants.

Professor Allen said: “Our research identified significant differences in brain blood flow between healthy people and those at ultra-high risk of psychosis. These differences help us understand the neurobiological mechanisms that underlie the development of psychosis.”

The practical research carried out by Professor Allen and the team at King’s College London shows the potential usefulness of brain scanning to help experts assess whether patients deemed to be at greater risk of psychosis could in future recover or develop a disorder.

Professor Allen is based in the Department of Psychology at the University of Roehampton and is currently a visiting professor at King’s College London. His research interests include the neurobiology of ultra-high risk states for psychosis, neurocognitive basis of auditory verbal hallucinations and the acute neurocognitive effects of cannabis.

Study Psychology at Roehampton.