Schizophrenia is a chronic and disabling mental illness that affects more than three million Americans. Anti-psychotic medication can control schizophrenia’s psychotic symptoms, including the hallucinations and delusions that are well-known hallmarks of the disease. However, there are no effective treatments for the disease’s ‘negative symptoms’ – so-called because they involve a loss of normal function. The negative symptoms of schizophrenia include an inability to feel pleasure, a lack of motivation, and difficulty with non-verbal communication. These symptoms can seriously impact patients’ employment prospects, housing, relationships, and overall quality of life. In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in Boston used imaging data to determine the underlying anatomical cause of schizophrenia’s negative symptoms and then applied non-invasive brain stimulation to ameliorate them. The scientists found, as they reported in an article published online on January 30, 2019 in the American Journal of Psychiatry, that these symptoms arise from a breakdown in a network between the brain’s prefrontal cortex and the cerebellum. Moreover, the team demonstrated that a novel type of non-invasive brain stimulation restored this crucial network’s function, which in turn improved schizophrenia’s most debilitating and treatment-resistant symptoms in patients with the disease.
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