Research Summary

Modulating Mirror Neuron Activity in Schizophrenia: A Novel Translational Application of MRI-Guided Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Schizophrenia is a leading cause of disability in the world. Social cognition (our ability to infer thoughts and emotions of others) deficits in these patients have emerged as key determinants of poor functioning and disability. Importantly, these social cognition deficits persist despite antipsychotic treatment. Newer treatment strategies that improve these symptoms are need of the hour. Poor activation of mirror neurons (neurons activated during performance of an action as well as during observation of someone else performing the same action) has been demonstrated to have associations with social cognition deficits in schizophrenia. Thus, identifying avenues to adaptively modulate mirror neuron activity in schizophrenia patients can potentially reduce disease burden.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a safe, non-invasive and promising method of stimulating focal brain regions. When coupled with MRI-guided neuronavigationalsystem, its efficacy increases several-folds. In this research proposal, we propose to examine if MRI-guided neuro-navigational high-frequency repetitive-TMS

adaptively modulates mirror neuron activity in schizophrenia patients as assessed using functional MRI (neuro-hemodynamic correlates) & Diffusion Tensor Imaging (white matter connectivity correlates) studies, compared to sham TMS, using a randomized controlled study design. Results of this study will inform us regarding the neural processes underlying social cognition in schizophrenia and guide novel therapeutic strategies using brain stimulation to treat social deficits in them.

Figure Legend: Modulation of the putative link between mirror neuron dysfunction and social deficitsin schizophrenia