UCLA Researchers Map How Schizophrenia
Engulfs Teen Brains

Dramatic Images Hold Hope for Early Diagnosis, Treatment of Devastating Disease

Contact: Dr. Paul Thompson (310)206-2101

or Dan Page, UCLA Health Sciences Communications (310)794-2265

Discovery Channel (video interview, Nov. 16, 2001; 3 minutes [Windows Media Player])
PBS Interview about the Brain (January 31, 2002)

Additional Press Coverage:

Boston Globe (May 6, 2003) Graphics Introduction Printable version
New York Times Interview (June 13, 2008)
Reuters Health (Sept. 24, 2001)
ABC Newswire (Sept. 24, 2001)
UPI Newswire (Sept. 24, 2001)
Reuters Health Professional Newswire (Sept. 24, 2001)
Yahoo Newswire (Sept. 24, 2001)
BBC News, England (Sept. 25, 2001)
Aerzte Zeitung (Sept. 24, 2001; in German]
Wissenschaft Online (Sept. 25, 2001) [in German]
Adoz News Service (Sept. 25, 2001; in Polish)
Polish News Service (May 7, 2003; in Polish)
Science Daily (Sept. 25, 2001)
Osterreich Journal (Austria; in German; Sept. 25, 2001)
Infoscience (France; in French; Sept. 25, 2001)
Katamed Medical Newswire (Italy; in Italian; Sept. 25, 2001)
Psychiatry Online (Italy; in Italian; Sept. 25, 2001)
La Gazzetta Del Mezzogiorno (Italy; in Italian; March 4, 2003)
Health Mantra News (Sept. 25, 2001)[NEW]
Health Media/Yahoo Headlines (Sept. 26, 2001)
Biomed Central (Sept. 26, 2001)
Professional Psychiatry News (Sept. 27, 2001)
Pressetext (Austria; in German; Sept. 27, 2001)[NEW]
Toronto Star (Sep. 30, 2001)
Dr. (Oct. 1, 2001)
Ciencia Hoje (Brazil; in Portuguese; Oct. 18, 2001)
Emedix News (Brazil; in Portuguese; Sept. 25, 2001)
O Globo, and in Jornal da Ciencia (Brazil; in Portuguese; Oct. 1, 2001)
Neuroscience for Kids (Oct. 4, 2001)
MICA News and Commentary (Oct. 2001);[Page 2]
NISAD HeadLines (Oct. 25, 2001)
Neuropsychiatry Reviews (Oct. 2001 Issue)[NEW]
Nature Reviews Neuroscience (Nov. 2001 Issue)
Il Nuovo (Switzerland; in Italian; Nov. 17, 2001)
Biological Psychiatry Newsletter (December 19, 2001) [NEW]
Medisch Vandaag (Netherlands; in Dutch; December 19, 2001)
The Scientist 16[3]:27, (Feb. 4, 2002) [NEW]

PNAS Article (Sept. 25, 2001) [.pdf]

For Immediate Use: Monday, September 24, 2001, 2:00PM PST, 5:00PM EST

UCLA brain researchers using a powerful new technique have created the first images showing the devastating impact of schizophrenia on the brain. The findings, published in the Sept. 25 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences*, show how a dynamic wave of tissue loss engulfs the brains of schizophrenic patients in their teen-age years.

The findings may have key diagnostic implications. Aided by a better understanding of how psychosis develops, researchers can detect aberrant loss early and treat patients as early as possible. Future medications might fight the rapid loss of brain tissue, and their effectiveness could be assessed using the imaging technique.

"This is the first study to visualize how schizophrenia develops in the brain," said Paul Thompson, an assistant professor of neurology at the UCLA School of Medicine and the study's chief investigator. "Scientists have been perplexed about how schizophrenia progresses and whether there are any physical changes in the brain. We were stunned to see a spreading wave of tissue loss that began in a small region of the brain. It moved across the brain like a forest fire, destroying more tissue as the disease progressed."

The scientists, at UCLA and the National Institute of Mental Health, employed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology to scan a group of teenagers repeatedly as they developed schizophrenia. Using a new image analysis method that detects very fine changes in the brain, the scientists detected gray matter loss of more than 10 percent first in the parietal, or outer, regions of the brain; this loss spread to engulf the rest of the brain over five years.

Patients with the worst brain tissue loss also had the worst symptoms, which included hallucinations, delusions, bizarre and psychotic thoughts, hearing voices, and depression. Schizophrenia affects an estimated 1 percent of Americans. Its causes are unknown, and the disease typically hits without warning in the late teens or 20s.

Researchers also detected a mild loss of brain tissue in healthy teen-agers. Between ages 13 and 18, they lost about 1 percent gray matter per year in the parietal cortices, the region where the spreading wave began. In schizophrenics, this brain tissue loss gained momentum and swept into the sensory and motor regions. The frontal eye fields lost tissue fastest, at about 5 percent per year. These fields control eye movements, which often are disturbed in schizophrenic patients.

In another first, the brain-mapping technique reveals underlying changes in the brain's anatomical hardware as teenagers mature normally or develop psychosis. The identification of previously unseen waves of loss and key anatomical changes will allow scientists to establish powerful links between cognitive and behavioral changes and rapid changes in underlying brain structures.

The UCLA and NIMH researchers are also applying this new imaging approach to relatives of schizophrenic patients to screen them for early brain changes. The disease runs in families, but specific risk genes have not yet been found. Although the causes of the disease are currently unknown, some non-genetic trigger, in the teen-age years, may activate the disease in some individuals but not others.

A copy of the full study is available here (Word .doc) and here (PDF).

Graphics related to the study can be found at

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Article:

[1] Paul M. Thompson, Christine N. Vidal, Jay N. Giedd, Peter Gochman, Jonathan Blumenthal, Rob Nicolson, Arthur W. Toga, Judith L. Rapoport (2001). Mapping Adolescent Brain Change Reveals Dynamic Wave of Accelerated Gray Matter Loss in Very Early-Onset Schizophrenia, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, vol. 98, no. 20:11650-11655, September 25, 2001. [Word .doc (69 KB)] [PDF (61 KB)]

UPDATE, Oct. 2008 - New article with time-lapse films of medication effects on the brain:

[2] Paul M. Thompson, Bartzokis G, Hayashi KM, Klunder AD, Lu PH, Edwards N, Hong MS, Yu M, Geaga JA, Toga AW, Charles C, Perkins DO, McEvoy J, Hamer RM, Tohen M, Tollefson GD, Lieberman JA, for the HGDH Study Group (2008). Time-Lapse Mapping Reveals Different Disease Trajectories in Schizophrenia depending on Antipsychotic Treatment, Cerebral Cortex, published online, Oct. 8 2008. [New York Times Interview on these findings] [Time-Lapse Animations] [NEW]

Media stories on other research projects can be found here and here. Contact Information:

Paul Thompson
Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, UCLA School of Medicine
Phone: 310-206-2101
Fax: 310-206-5518

Related Publications

  • Mapping brain growth in children

  • other research areas

  • Disease-Specific Brain Atlases

  • A Population-Based Brain Atlas

  • (back to main list)

    Contact Information

  • Mail:

    Paul Thompson, Ph.D.
    Professor of Neurology
    UCLA Lab of Neuro-Imaging and Brain Mapping Division
    Dept. Neurology and Brain Research Institute
    4238 Reed Neurology, UCLA Medical Center
    710 Westwood Plaza
    Westwood, Los Angeles CA 90095-1769, USA.

  • E-mail:
  • Tel: (310)206-2101
  • Fax: (310)206-5518