Scientists have identified a brain area that causes schizophrenia patients to "hear voices", and could be targeted with high frequency magnetic pulses to treat the condition, scientists say. Schizophrenia is a serious long-term mental health problem. People with schizophrenia experience a range of symptoms.
One of the best-known is hearing voices, also known as Auditory Verbal Hallucination (AVH). These voices, may be 'heard' as having a variety of different characteristics, for example as internal or external, friendly or threatening, they may be continuously present or present only occasionally, and so on. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) has been suggested as a possible way of treating the hearing of voices in schizophrenia.
It uses magnetic pulses to the brain, and has been shown to be effective in several psychiatric conditions. However, there is a lack of controlled trials to show that TMS works effectively with AVH sufferers. Researchers from University of Caen (CHU) in France worked with 26 patients who received active TMS treatment, and 33 as a control group, who received sham (placebo) treatment.
The treated patients received a series of 20 Hz high- frequency magnetic pulses over two sessions a day for two days. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the pulses were targeted at a specific brain area in the temporal lobe, which is associated with language.
Researchers found that 34.6 per cent of the patients being treated by TMS showed a significant response, whereas only 9.1 per cent of patients in the sham group responded. "AVH, or "hearing voices" can be a disturbing symptom of schizophrenia, both for patients and for those close to sufferers," said Sonia Dollfus from CHU.
This is the first controlled trial to show an improvement in these patients by targeting a specific area of the brain and using high frequency TMS, researchers said. "This means two things; firstly it seems that we now can say with some certainty that we have found a specific anatomical area of the brain associated with auditory verbal hallucinations in schizophrenia, Dollfus said.
"Secondly, we have shown that treatment with high frequency TMS makes a difference to at least some sufferers, although there is a long way to go before we will know if TMS is the best route to treat these patients in the long-term," Dollfus added.