Scientists for the first time have identified a fault in the brain waves of schizophrenics that may explain their hallucinations and disturbed thinking. The study, by a team at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Boston Healthcare System and Harvard Medical School, appears in the Nov. 8 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers studied the brain waves of normal and schizophrenic patients as they responded to images. Those with the disorder showed no electrical activity in a certain frequency-the “gamma” range, from 30 to 100 brain waves per second-that healthy brain cells use to exchange information about the environment and form mental impressions. “The schizophrenics did not show this gamma-band response at all. There was a pretty dramatic difference,” said senior author Robert W. McCarley, MD, deputy chief of staff for mental health services at the VA Boston Healthcare System and chair of the Harvard psychiatry department.
The brain contains hundreds of billions of neurons, or nerve cells. Researchers believe our thoughts are created when large groupings of these neurons “fire”-send messages to each other, through bursts of electrical activity-at the same frequency. Different frequencies, measured in hertz, or cycles per second, indicate different levels and types of activities. Delta waves, below 4 hertz, occur during sleep. Alpha waves, 8 to 13 hertz, occur at relaxed, quiet times. Beta waves are the next fastest, occurring when we are actively thinking.
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