Neurologists and psychiatrists at Columbia University using first functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have identified an area of the brain involved in the earliest stages of schizophrenia and related psychotic disorders. Activity in this specific region of the hippocampus may help predict the onset of the disease, offering opportunities for earlier diagnosis and for the development of drugs for schizophrenia prevention.

Details of the findings were published in the September 7, 2009, issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.

In the study, the researchers scanned the brains of 18 high-risk individuals with “prodromal” symptoms, and followed them for two years. Of those individuals who went on to develop first-episode psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, 70% had unusually high activity in this region of the hippocampus, known as the CA1 subfield.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging is a non-invasive technique that measures brain metabolism, indicating what parts of the brain are active during which activities. Mapping cerebral blood volume (CBV) is a method used in fMRI to measure this activity and it indicates increases or decreases in metabolism.

This study was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health, NARSAD, and the Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research at Columbia University.