The following is excerpted from an online article posted by MedicalXpress.
Researchers have found that adolescents being bullied by their peers are at greater risk of the early stages of psychotic episodes and in turn, experience lower levels of a key neurotransmitter in a part of the brain involved in regulating emotions.
The finding suggests that this neurotransmitter—a chemical messenger that transmits nerve impulses for communication by a nerve cell—may be a potential target for pharmaceutical interventions aimed at reducing the risk of psychotic disorders. The findings are published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
Recent studies investigating links between neurological and psychiatric features of certain disorders have found that individuals who experience their first episode of psychosis or have schizophrenia that remains treatable have lower-than-normal levels of glutamate, a neurotransmitter in the brain’s anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) region.
Researchers at the University of Tokyo used magnetic resonance spectroscopy, or MRS, a type of radiological imaging applied to depict brain structure and function, to measure glutamate levels in the ACC region of Japanese adolescents.
They then measured the glutamate levels at a later point, allowing them to assess changes over time and compare these changes to experiences with bullying or lack thereof, as well as with any intention on the part of those experiencing bullying to seek help.
Bullying victimization was tracked via questionnaires completed by the adolescents.
They found that bullying was associated with higher levels of subclinical psychotic experiences in early adolescence—those symptoms come close to psychosis but do not meet the full criteria for a clinical diagnosis of a psychotic disorder, such as schizophrenia. These symptoms or experiences can include hallucinations, paranoia, or radical alterations in thinking or behavior and can have a significant impact on well-being and functioning, even in the absence of a psychotic disorder diagnosis.
“Studying these subclinical psychotic experiences is important for us to understand the early stages of psychotic disorders and for identifying individuals who may be at increased risk for developing a clinical psychotic illness later on,” said Naohiro Okada, lead author of the study and project associate professor at the University of Tokyo’s International Research Center for Neurointelligence (a research center under Japan’s World Premier International Research Center Initiative program).