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Brain Neuroimaging Reveals Similarities Between Schizophrenia And Temporal Lobe Epilepsy

MRI of the brainResearchers from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and Beaumont Hospital, Dublin have conducted the first study of its kind to examine in detail the basis of psychiatric disorders which occur in people with epilepsy. The findings of this study showed similarities with the brain cell patterns in people with schizophrenia. The research gives greater insights into both conditions which may potentially lead to new treatments in the future. The study was carried out at the National Centre for Epilepsy and Epilepsy Neurosurgery, Beaumont Hospital.

Epilepsy is associated with high rates of psychiatric disorder and one form of epilepsy, known as temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE), in particular, shows increased rates of psychosis. Until now, little was known about the underlying biological mechanisms behind this type of psychiatric disorder.

The study, which used advanced neuroimaging techniques, found that a lower density of cells (grey and white matter) was widespread across many regions of the brain in people who had both TLE and psychosis. This pattern of a low density of cells in parts of the brain was similar to those observed in schizophrenia.

These brain differences are potentially relevant to both psychiatric disorders in temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) and to schizophrenia in the general population.

Dr. Frederick Sundram, Senior Registrar and Honorary Lecturer in Psychiatry at RCSI commented: “This research gives new insights into the overlap between physical and psychiatric disorders such as epilepsy and schizophrenia respectively. In future, this may inform on potential treatments for psychiatric disorders associated with temporal lobe epilepsy as well as schizophrenia which affects over 10,000 people in Ireland (1). Our findings show that there is a low density of cells in TLE related psychosis which resembles schizophrenia. Patients with these conditions may benefit in future from treatments that target these abnormal brain regions.”

Epilepsy is one of the most common and debilitating neurological disorders which affects an estimated 35,000 of people in Ireland (2).

Dr. Sundram, lead author of the study worked with a team from the Department of Psychiatry, RCSI and Beaumont Hospital including Professor Mary Cannon and Professor David Cotter in collaboration with Dr Colin Doherty, St. James’ Hospital, Dublin; Professor Gareth Barker, Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College, London; and Ms Mary Fitzsimons and Dr Norman Delanty, Beaumont Hospital.

The research was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry(3) and the research group was funded by the Health Research Board and The Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, NARSAD (USA).

Material adapted from Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI).

(1) Behan C, Kennelly B, O’Callaghan E, The economic cost of schizophrenia in Ireland: a cost of illness study. Ir J Psych Med 2008; 25(3): 80-87.
(2) Source: Brainwave – The Irish Epilepsy Association.
(3) Sundram F, Cannon M, Doherty CP, Barker GJ, Fitzsimons M, Delanty N, Cotter D. Neuroanatomical correlates of psychosis in temporal lobe epilepsy: voxel-based morphometry study. British Journal of Psychiatry. 2010 Dec;197:482-92.

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