Schizophrenia is characterized by active psychosis and the hallmark sign is auditory hallucinations and delusions, which are false ideas or beliefs. There are many different underlying proposed mechanisms for schizophrenia, and the anatomical brain structure difference is one of them. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and other imaging studies have shown that individuals with schizophrenia have larger ventricular volumes and decreased brain volume in the temporal regions. Changes in the hippocampus can also be attributed to the psychotic symptoms portrayed in individuals who have schizophrenia.
The hippocampus is located deep in the brain’s temporal region and is part of the limbic system, which is responsible for emotions. The hippocampus itself plays a large role in memory, most specifically long-term memory, and individuals with schizophrenia have abnormalities within this brain structure.
The brain’s folds
In a recent study, researchers discovered further information that relates a very specific structure, known as the paracingulate sulcus (PCS), to schizophrenia. The paracingulate sulcus is a structural fold located in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Human brains are made up of many wrinkles which are formally known as gyri and sulci. The purpose of these “wrinkles” is to increase the surface area of the brain to accommodate more neurons. The paracingulate sulcus is one of the last folds to develop in the human brain and develops as late as early adulthood.
Researchers have discovered that changes in the size of the paracingulate gyrus can determine whether or not individuals have a real or imagined concept of reality, a term known as reality monitoring. The first study that linked hallucinations and reality monitoring with the paracingulate sulcus was released in 2011, but a more recent study was able to dig a little deeper into this compelling new finding.
Shorter folds increase hallucination likelihood
In a 2015 study published in Nature Communications, a group of researchers discovered that a shortened paracingulate sulcus can be an indicator for the development of schizophrenia. Jon S. Simons from the University of Cambridge and his colleagues analyzed 153 structural MRI scans of people diagnosed with schizophrenia who had experienced hallucinations, and compared them with the scans from non-schizophrenic control participants who had not experienced hallucinations. The researchers measured the length of the PCS in each participant’s brain and discovered that a 1-centimeter reduction in the fold’s length increased the likelihood of hallucinations by nearly 20 percent.
This new finding has opened the door and helped explain the mechanism behind hallucinations. These false perceived views of reality play a pivotal role in schizophrenia and different forms of hallucinations can be seen throughout the general population at some points. Further research must be developed to determine whether any clinical innovation can be linked to this anatomical fold and possibly pave the way for a cure for schizophrenia.
“Never give up on someone with a mental illness. When ‘I’ is replaced by ‘We,’ illness becomes wellness.”
― Shannon L. Alder
Sovereign Health of California is a leading behavioral health care provider that treats people with addiction, mental health disorders including schizophrenia, and co-occurring conditions. For more information, please call our 24/7 helpline.
About the author
Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a senior staff writer at the Sovereign Health Group and enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of medicine. She is a physician and author, who also teaches, practices medicine in the urgent care setting and contributes to medicine board education. She is also an outdoor and dog enthusiast. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.