UWM Logo Schizophrenia may be often regarded as the most devastating chronic mental illness affecting an individual. A team of experts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison claim that during non-rapid eye movement sleep (non-REM), the brain waves produced by people with schizophrenia lack the normal pattern of slow and fast spindles. The distinctive pattern of brain waves can apparently be the first biological markers for schizophrenia.

A common electroencephalogram (EEG) test can probably help confirm suspicions of the disease, or distinguish young people at risk of schizophrenia. In this study scientists employed EEG recording for mapping the full-night brain wave patterns of 49 people with schizophrenia and 44 healthy people. Also 20 people consuming anti-psychotic medication for conditions other than schizophrenia were evaluated. Around 90 percent subjects diagnosed with schizophrenia reported deficits in sleep spindles, the most common brain waves occurring during non-REM sleep.

On the other hand, those belonging to the healthy and medicated-but-not-schizophrenic groups possibly had a regular spindle pattern. Dr. Fabio Ferrarelli of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and lead author of the study and colleagues observed that the other component of non-REM sleep also referred as slow waves, failed to differ among the groups. Spindles may be usually generated by the thalamus, which is a structure in the center of the brain. This structure seemingly coordinates incoming stimuli and sends it along to the cerebral cortex.

It is within the cortex that slow waves may be produced. It seems that thalamus is crucial in schizophrenia, as malfunction in its structure helps understand why schizophrenics see and hear things that aren’t there. In case the thalamus is unable to perform its function of filtering out unnecessary information, the brain can possibly ignore stimuli. Therefore a diagnostic test examining brain waves can apparently help identify the mental illness.

The study is published in the November edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry.