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Visual and auditory changes may play a role in schizophrenia

December 9, 2009 |  2:44 pm

Brain Visual and auditory deficits are apparent in teenagers developing schizophrenia, and identifying and treating these deficits might restore sensory function and limit the impact of the disease, researchers reported today at the annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology.

Scientists from the Nathan Kline Institute at New York University found that impairment of basic sensory processes -- the way people see and hear -- may cause some of the problems linked to schizophrenia, a severe mental illness that usually develops in late adolescence or early adulthood. Their studies, based on measuring electrical responses from the scalp surface (referred to as biomarkers for the disease), suggest that this low level of visual and auditory functioning erodes peoples' ability to pay attention, understand social cues and read. People with schizophrenia have to overcompensate to pay attention and may not clearly hear or understand words or voice pitch. They may only see isolated objects in their field of vision.

Researchers don't know why or how these sensory processes break down in people with schizophrenia.

"The big hope is that these biomarkers could be a method for early detection and intervention," said the lead author of the study, Dr. Daniel C. Javitt, in a news release. "Using these measures of cognition we can increase the predictability of who is at risk for schizophrenia, and that can be extremely important in guiding treatment for those who are affected."

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Stephen Sedam  /  Los Angeles Times