By Julie S.
February 6, 2015

A new study showed that people suffering from different mental disorders have the same gray matter loss in their brains.

Researchers at Stanford University Medical Center reviewed 193 studies that included more than 16,000 brain images. They looked at the brain scans of 7,381 participants who were pre-diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder and a cluster of related anxiety disorders.

The team compared these brain scans to the brain images of 8,511 healthy individuals.

The analysis showed a pattern of brain tissue loss in the same region of the brains of those with mental disorders that is associated with planning, decision-making and information processing. The control group did not display changes in the three regions: the left and right anterior insula and the dorsal anterior cingulate.

The researchers also observed shrinkage in the hippocampus and amygdala that are responsible for storing long-term memories and emotions, respectively.

"They work together, signaling to other brain regions when reality deviates from expectations -- that something important and unpredicted has happened, or something important has failed to happen," said study leader Dr. Amit Etkin, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford, in a news release.

The study was the first to look at mental disorders at a general level. Earlier studies focused on a single mental disorder.

"The idea that these disorders share some common brain architecture and that some functions could be abnormal across so many of them is intriguing," said Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health. He wasn't part of the study.

The findings of the study may be useful in the development of new diagnostic tests that will focus more on brain pathology instead of physical symptoms.

The study was published in the Feb. 4 issue of JAMA Psychiatry.