Matcheri S. Keshavan, M.D., of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and his colleagues just might have unlocked a cognitive enhancement therapy that could reverse brain cell loss in people diagnosed with schizophrenia.
The researchers wrote online in Archives of General Psychiatry that this type of therapy "can protect against gray matter loss and may even support gray matter growth in medial temporal areas of the brain in service of cognitive enhancement among patients with early course schizophrenia."
More volume in the gray matter and white matter of the brain usually signals a person is functioning at a higher level.
The study authors administered cognitive enhancement therapy or an enriched supportive therapy (the control group) to 53 stable patients with schizophrenia and schizoaffective illness. Teams of two patients received high-tech cognitive therapy in the form of a computer-based tool that administered neurocognitive training. The PSSCognReHab software and Orientation Remediation Module were used in the study.
Combined with psychoeducation the innovative cognitive exercises were hoped to foster "the development of social-cognitive abilities and effective social interaction," according to Keshavan. The patients that received the cognitive enhancement therapy had increases in volume in the left hippocampus, left amygdale, and left fusiform gyrus. These areas of the brain handle social cognitive. They also had the effect of small increases in the right, left and frontal lobes.
Before this study no other cognitive therapy had helped reverse the brain shrinkage. This approach was novel in that it caused physical changes to occur in the brain.
The control group of patients continued to experience brain shrinkage.
In related news: researchers at the University of California Irvine discovered a new class of compounds that could be used for drugs to treat the cognitive disorders seen in schizophrenia. The compounds act like nicotine to target receptors in the brain without the health threats created by smoking.
An interesting and dangerous side effect of cognitive impairment is that deficits in memory make it more difficult for people diagnosed with schizophrenia to remember to take their meds.
The three-year study showed that activating a certain nicotinic receptor in the brain improved working memory and in turn made it easier to filter sensory input. Rodents were used and additional animal work is required to confirm the findings and make sure the compound is safe to test on humans.
You can read my two-part series on Schizophrenia News: Cognitive Deficit Syndrome and Cognitive Fitness: A New Approach that detailed the devastating impact and chronic nature of this disabling symptom.
The time has come to halt the trend of the loss of brain functioning among people diagnosed with schizophrenia. Cognitive deficit is the true hallmark symptom of this illness and until a cure is found I will scour my news sources for updated information about this topic.
Published On: June 14, 2010