A study of 153 brain scans has linked a particular furrow, near the front of each hemisphere, to hallucinations in schizophrenia.This fold tends to be shorter in those patients who hallucinate, compared with those who do not.
It is an area of the brain that appears to have a role in distinguishing real perceptions from imagined ones.Researchers say the findings, published in Nature Communications, might eventually help with early diagnosis.The brain wrinkle, called the paracingulate sulcus or PCS, varies considerably in shape between individuals. It appears in the brain only just before birth.
"It's a region that, although it's not fully developed by birth, whether or not it's going to be a particularly prominent fold – or not – is present in the brain at birth," said Jon Simons, a neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge, UK. "It might be that if somebody is born with this particular property, a reduction in this brain fold, that might give them a predisposition towards developing something like hallucinations later on in life."
If further work shows that the difference can be detected in children, for example, Dr Simons said it might be possible to offer extra support to people who face that elevated risk.But he stressed that schizophrenia is a complicated phenomenon. Hallucinations are one of the main symptoms, but some patients are diagnosed on the basis of other irregular thought processes.
Dr Simons and his colleagues used data from the Australian Schizophrenia Research Bank, including structural MRI scans revealing the detailed physical dimensions of 153 individual brains: 113 people with schizophrenia and 40 healthy controls.