February 8, 2019

Patients with psychosis have accelerated aging of two brain networks important for general cognition -- the frontoparietal network (FPN) and cingulo-opercular network (CON) -- according to a new study in Biological Psychiatry. Efficiency of the FPN network was normal in early psychosis but reduced in chronic patients, indicating that the decline happens after illness onset. The findings support the idea that intervention to boost these brain networks after early signs of psychosis may help patients have better functional outcomes later in life.

“There is growing evidence that normal biological aging is accelerated in psychotic disorders. One aspect of healthy aging is declining cognitive function and less efficient communication within brain networks supporting cognitive abilities, including planning, problem solving, and memory,” said lead author Julia M. Sheffield, Ph.D., Psychosis Emphasis Postdoctoral Fellow within the Vanderbilt Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences. 

Communication within the FPN and CON networks shows the earliest signs of decline in healthy aging, so the new findings indicate that people with psychosis demonstrate normal patterns of brain aging, but at an accelerated rate. In the study, Dr. Sheffield and colleagues used brain imaging to compare the connectivity between brain regions—a measure of how efficiently the regions communicate—in 240 patients with psychotic disorder (including schizophrenia and psychotic bipolar disorder) and 178 healthy controls.

“The accelerated decline was specific to cognitive networks, providing evidence that accelerated aging is not due to a global reduction in efficient communication across the whole brain,” said Dr. Sheffield.

Abstract link: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2018.12.016