Study: Many Mental Disorders Affect Same Brain Regions

STANFORD, Cali. (CBS Sacramento) – Many different mental disorders stem from the same brain regions, a new study finds.

Researchers analyzed hundreds of brain imaging studies covering six major psychiatric disorders and found that most of the disorders were linked to gray matter loss in a network of three brain regions involved in higher cognitive functions.

“We wanted to test a very simple question that simply hadn’t been asked,” Dr. Amit Etkin, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at Stanford University and senior author of the study, told Live Science.

Etkin and his team wanted to know if common psychiatric disorders have a common structure in the brain so they filtered through almost 200 structural brain imaging studies of over 7,000 people with schizophrenia, bipolar, depression, addiction, obsessive-compulsive, or anxiety, as well as over 8,500 people who were not diagnosed with any disorder.

The researchers then compared their findings from different disorders and found that all of them showed loss of gray matter in three regions of the brain – the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, the right insula, and the left insula.  Gray matter is a major component of the central nervous system that contains numerous cell bodies.  Etkin says the network of areas is linked to the things that allow a person to function in life.

“The fact that many psychiatric disorders share a common structural root will make it easier to apply therapies for one disorder to another,” Etkin said in the study.  Computer cognitive training that treats schizophrenia may also be useful in treating other disorders is one example of this that he gave.

“I think clinicians tend to think this way already, but we had not had to connection to the science,” Etkin added.  “As a clinician, I see commonalities between patients with different diagnoses, but until I did this study, I was unable to understand what they were and how they operate.”

The researchers did find some differences as well.

Etkin plans to further investigate brain activity and whether it has similarities across the different disorders.

The research team is trying to develop ways to improve noninvasive brain stimulation to the brain regions studied.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry.

(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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