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Vulnerability to mental disorders would begin before birth

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In work carried out in collaboration with the ENIGMA Consortium and with dozens of researchers around the world, Professor Tomas Paus and doctoral student Yash Patel have demonstrated that the morphology of the cerebral cortex (the outer layer of the brain, commonly called gray matter) differs depending on the psychiatric disorder, whether it is autism, schizophrenia or ADHD, for example.

On the other hand, the neurobiological factors at the origin of this modification during growth remain for the most part to be circumscribed.

The cerebral cortexexplained Professor Paus, hardly changes after the age of two. It can therefore be studied in adulthood and have a very good idea of ​​its appearance before the manifestation of mental illness.

The researchers therefore carried out a joint analysis in which they compiled imaging data from 27,359 people. They were interested in the surface that the cerebral cortex would cover if it were laid out on a flat surface. On average, this would be about 0.19 square meters (or two square feet) with a thickness of about 2.5 millimeters.

We compared these surfaces between patients who had various problems [de santé mentale] and controlssaid Professor Paus.years old, who had psychological problems, compared to children who had very few psychological problems.”,”text”:”And the first thing we found was that there is a noticeable difference in the case of certain diseases. But we also observed it in very young patients, say 10-year-old children, who had psychological problems, compared to children who had very few psychological problems.”}}”>And the first thing we found is that there is a noticeable difference in the case of certain diseases. But we’ve also seen it in very young patients, say 10-year-olds, who had psychological problems, compared to children who had very few psychological problems.

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However, these differences were not uniform throughout the cerebral cortex, he added: they were more pronounced in regions of the cortex associated with more complex tasks like processing information, making decisions and planning future actions. They were therefore not regions associated with basic functions such as sight and hearing.

Makes sense when you think about it, right? asked Professor Paus. Psychiatric problems have nothing to do with what you can’t see or hear. It is complex thoughts or complex perceptions that are potentially disturbed.

Early development

Professor Paus and his colleagues were then able to link the characteristics of these differences on the surface of the association cortex to those of the cellular events that underlie early brain development.

However, these differences are only part of the puzzle., he said, and they offer no certainty that mental illness will manifest many years after birth. They also do not determine what mental illness, if any, will present.

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It’s just a matter of vulnerabilitysaid Professor Paus.

The researchers also discovered the point of convergence between these developmental processes and genes associated with perinatal risk factors, such as low birth weight, lack of oxygen supply, maternal hypertension and prematurity.

The easiest thing to do would obviously be to manage these risk factors well.said Mr. Paus.

But if that’s not possiblehe added, we could examine what we could do to cushion the impact of these adverse events during the first two years after birth, a period during which brain development continues at an accelerated pace. However, further research will be needed.

The findings of this study were published by the journal Biological Psychiatry.

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