Biological Basis of Schizophrenia

A look at the neurological basis of Schizophrenia.

            Throughout history, Schizophrenia has served to be one of the most perplexing and bizarre disorders for psychologists, psychiatrists, physicians, and the general public. Historically, attention given to the disorder and the past treatments thereof has served as the force that has created numerous sweeping changes in mental health care. Schizophrenia served as a mystery for decades as patients were warehoused away in asylums like the Bethlem Royal Hospital, the Waverly Hills Sanatorium, the Trans-Allegany Lunatic Asylum, and the Amityville Mental Asylum. Shelving individuals away in dark rooms was the answer to the disorder until research began shedding a light on the cause of the disorder allowing hope for treatment. As the disorder was better understood, changes occurred in the systems that treated the disorder to move from the older forms of simply locking patients away without hope of getting better (Pridemore, 2004).

            To understand Schizophrenia at a biological level, one should understand the differences between the brain of an individual suffering from Schizophrenia and a normal, non-schizophrenic individual. The first noticeable difference is that the brain of a schizophrenic patient is lighter on average than the brain of a normal individual. The lighter weight of the brain is the result of smaller frontal lobes due to a lower number of neurons in the prefrontal cortex. Abnormalities were also found in the organization of pyramidal neuronal organization in the hippocampus and fewer synapses between the dorsolateral prefrontal cells. As the frontal lobes play a significant role in higher level thought and organization of thought, one can note that the disorganized and simplistic connections of neurons in the prefrontal regions could have a connection to the delusions that are symptomatic of schizophrenic patients. The haphazard organization of the hippocampal neurons can be seen as possibly contributing to this by providing a misdirected firing of neuronal circuits due to the disorganized layout of the pyramidal cells of this region that plays a key role in memory. With the area of the brain responsible for memory being disorganized, the misfiring of neurons could clearly be seen as resulting from this disorganization. One may argue that plasticity would serve to correct the neuronal misfiring of individuals suffering from Schizophrenia, but in the case of Schizophrenia, neurological functioning may not have been affected in such a way that biological processes would necessarily restructure the neural pathways in a corrective manner as could be seen in some cases of head trauma, split-brain patients, and various other incidents that involve neural plasticity.

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