We follow up young people during a phase when the brain is experiencing important changes, aiming to help detect and prevent future mental health problems
Psychotic disorders are one of the first causes of disability among young people. One of the strongest determinants of long-term outcome is early detection of the disorder. However, at present, diagnosis still relies on clinical interview.
It is possible that some of the changes that occur in the brain of patients with psychotic disorders begin years before clinical symptoms emerge. Therefore, the group has set out to identify brain markers with the potential to inform of the risk of disease before clinical onset of the disorder.
The group studies children and adolescents through clinical interviews, neuropsychological tests, brain magnetic resonance imaging, and blood or saliva samples, which are repeated over follow-up.
It evaluates both typically developing individuals and young people at different stages of psychosis risk, either because they have mild or non-specific symptoms, or because they have a family history of the disorder. It also evaluates young people with a recent diagnosis of psychotic disorder or with a specific type of autoimmune encephalitis, which is an illness that in some cases has similar manifestations to psychosis.
So far, the group has demonstrated that young people with an increased risk of psychosis show changes in brain structure, and specifically, that a loss of cortical thickness is associated with the development of psychosis symptoms.
It has also found that young people with psychotic disorders have poorer connectivity in the frontal area of the brain, which could be related to some of the social difficulties that they often present.
The next step includes combining magnetic resonance data with other biological measures, to try to predict the development of psychotic disorders in the high-risk population.