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Awards for two pieces of research on schizophrenia


The Department of Psychiatry at the University Hospital of the University of Navarre has received two awards at the XVII Congress of the European College of Neuropsychcopharmacology, held recently in Stockholm.

The studies awarded deal with the final conclusions of research work carried out by the Department in the field of schizophrenia. They specifically studied the biological bases of the disorder using neuroimaging and genetic study techniques. “It is known that one of the functions observed altered in patients with this ailment is that of attention. We wanted to see, by means of neuroimaging techniques, which regions of the brain might be failing when a person carries out specific tasks which need evermore attention”, explained Dr. Felipe Ortuño, specialist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University Hospital and principal author if this work.

The study compared the cerebral images of 11 healthy people with 11 patients, all subjected to exercise that demanded increasing attention. Using PET with oxygen 15 and the SPM (Statistical Parametric Mapping) image analysis system, the authors came to the conclusion that patients with schizophrenia have a number of dysfunctional areas. It was seen that, in general, they are located in the frontal cortex, such as the anterior limbic cortex and parietal. But, in this research, the involvement of a new area was detected, the supplementary motor area. This is a region which comes into play when tasks of attention aimed at evaluating temporary stimuli are required. When a healthy person is involved in an attention-demanding task, this region is triggered, but in patients with this pathology, the region is not activated with the same intensity. Moreover, it has been observed that, if this function fails, other, superior, functions may also fail. This work has been accepted for publication for the upcoming issue of the prestigious magazine, Neuroimage.

The second work that received an award was part of the PhD thesis of Dr. Patricio Molero studying the genetic aspects of schizophrenia. The role of a gene in the etiology of the schizophrenia was studied; concretely, that of the catecol-o-methyltransferase (COMT) enzyme. The research was undertaken on a sample of 134 patients, wherein it was observed that there was a tendency of specific association of the Val genotype with schizophrenia. His other conclusion was that it would appear that this genotype is associated with a better response from treatment with neuroleptics


Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder which appears in very early stages in life – typically in adolescence or at the beginning of adult life. It is an illness which affects many superior functions: thought (false beliefs appear as deliriums), sensoperception (hallucinations), emotions (appear increasingly deteriorated), willpower (initiative is lost), attention (more difficulty in paying attention) and personality deteriorates.

Since the 80s there have been great advances in understanding the origin of this disorder. In the brains of those with schizophrenia very subtle variations have been found – a very small decrease in the volume of the frontal cortex region (responsible for thought), in the limbic system region (responsible for emotions). Studies reveal that these alterations had been produced in early stages of intrauterine life. As a result, many studies, not only anatomopathological, but also with neuroimage techniques, genetics, etc., have been developed. For the future of this research an interdisciplinary approach is required to study the etiology, diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of the disorder.

Irati Kortabitarte | alfa
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