A new study by researchers at Duke University reports an abnormality in visual regions of the brain that is associated with a person’s general risk for mental illness. The findings, published in Biological Psychiatry, indicate a signature abnormality shared between common forms of mental illness, which could help clinicians assess a patient’s general risk for developing a mental illness. The signature abnormality was present in participants involved in the study who already had a higher risk of mental illness. This was characterized by a reduced efficiency between visual areas and brain networks important for integrating sensory information and suppressing distracting information.
Researchers have long thought that some aspects of the biology of the risk for psychiatric disorders were specific to particular disorders, and by studying specific groups of patients, may have mistaken general risk factors as specific risk factors. Newer research suggests that a person’s risk for developing mental illness is not specific to one form of disorder, but is instead shared across many different disorders. “In other words, there may be a single risk factor that predicts whether an individual develops any form of psychiatric disorder, be it depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, or even schizophrenia,” said first author Maxwell Elliott, a doctoral student in the laboratory of Ahmad Hariri, PhD.