A common brain network appears to connect psychiatric illnesses

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Typically, psychiatric disorders come more than one at a time. That is why patients often fit the profile of more than one illness. Until now, it was unclear why this was the case. Recent research 1 seems to have thrown light on this question, as it identified a brain network common to at least six psychiatric disorders.

The researchers first collected a huge dataset comprising structural brain data from over 15000 people (193 studies), among which there were healthy people and people diagnosed with the following psychiatric disorders: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety.

In one third of the studies, the research team could identify decreased grey matter (atrophy) in the anterior cingulate and the insult. Although changes in these regions have been previously associated with psychopathology, neurodegeneration also causes similar changes, and these findings were not broad, as the biggest part of the data did not show this.

Using connectome analysis, that is, a wiring diagram of the brain, they found an underlying pattern of atrophy linking all analysed psychiatric illnesses. Interestingly, this pattern was found in about 85% of the data analysed, and was not affected by neurodegeneration.

In addition, using data from 194 war veterans, when comparing the data from this network between those who suffered a penetrating had injury and those who did not, showed that damage to the network due to injury was associated with an increased risk for psychiatric illness(es).

This finding is interesting and has therapeutic potential, as the treatment of co-occurring psychiatric disorders is currently challenging. Maybe finding more commonalities among them, such as the above network might help kill two birds with one stone, saving patients from a long trial and error until finding the appropriate treatment regime for both ailments.


  1. Taylor, J.J., Lin, C., Talmasov, D. et al. A transdiagnostic network for psychiatric illness derived from atrophy and lesions. Nat Hum Behav (2023). doi: 10.1038/s41562-022-01501-9

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