Magazine article Science News

Schizophrenia May Involve Bad Timing

Magazine article Science News

Schizophrenia May Involve Bad Timing

Article excerpt

People diagnosed with schizophrenia display a wide-ranging breakdown of perception and thought. A glitch in the timing of cell responses across broad swaths of brain tissue may help account for these people's fragmented experience of the world, according to a new study.

In the brains of schizophrenia sufferers, electrical activity fails to synchronize with a specific sound frequency as it does in the brains of mentally healthy people, report psychiatrist Robert W. McCarley of Brockton (Mass.) Veterans Affairs Medical Center and his coworkers.

In healthy individuals, widely separated clusters of neurons harmonize their electrical activity to the so-called gamma frequency of around 40 bursts per second. This match may help produce unified perceptions and memories (SN: 2/20/99, p. 122).

Much research on schizophrenia and other severe mental disorders focuses on activity in specific parts of the brain as measured by imaging devices. McCarley's group instead examined the timing of electrical responses across much of the brain's outer layer, or cortex, using electroencephalogram (EEG) sensors placed on the scalp.

The researchers recruited 15 men currently hospitalized for schizophrenia treatment, most of whom had been diagnosed with the disorder around 20 years ago and had received antipsychotic medication ever since. Another 15 men, none of whom had psychiatric disorders or any immediate relatives with a mental ailment, served as controls.

EEG recordings were made in experimental sessions as each volunteer listened through headphones to series of tones with frequencies of either 20, 30, or 40 vibrations per second. …

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