Bully on the Brain
"The exciting part would be if this could be a marker to identify
children who are at increased risk for this troublesome adult outcome, and if
it would have sufficient accuracy to pick up children who are at risk for this
condition, because that's a prerequisite for any targeted intervention
program," agrees David R. Offord, MD, director of the Centre for Studies of
Children at Risk at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
If the causes of the underlying problem can be identified, it could allow
doctors to design therapies such as drugs or surgery to treat the specific
brain defect, combined with other strategies such as psychiatric treatment and
behavioral therapy. Such therapies would be likely to be more effective in
children, whose brains are more adaptable to change than those of adults, says
researcher Adrian Raine, DPhil, professor of psychology at the USC, in an
interview with WebMD.
"We have to try to discover what the causes of the prefrontal damage
are, and that's what we can't answer at the moment," Raine says. "The
deficit could occur from environmental factors, such as birth complications,
which could traumatize the brain. We did research a few years ago showing that
birth complications predispose to violent offending in adulthood. Perhaps if we
gave under-served mothers better prenatal and postnatal health care, we might
be in a better position to do something about reducing one of the sources of
"Another source of the damage could be very early infant abuse. If you
repeatedly shake an infant, you'll lacerate the white nerve fibers connecting
the frontal cortex, effectively shutting it off from the rest of the brain and
perhaps leading to some neuronal [nerve cell] degeneration. So the question may
be, what do we do to prevent early infant abuse?" he says.
Raine tells WebMD that although there is little hope now of curing adults
with APD, "we know that in the next 10 years we'll have the first microchip
implant to replace the hippocampus [the area of the brain thought to be
involved in emotion and memory], and scientists are working on using microchip
implants to replace other damaged brain structures. It's not inconceivable,
therefore, that within the next 15 to 20 years we might be able to do something
about the tissue loss that occurs in these individuals."
- Antisocial personality disorder (APD) is a form of mental illness often
seen in serial killers and other violent, aggressive, wildly impulsive, or
- Researchers have found that men with APD have an 11% reduction in a type of
tissue in the prefrontal cortex -- the area of the brain associated with
emotion, arousal, attention, moral conscience, and self-control.
- Some suggestions as to what actually causes the damage to this area of the
brain include environmental factors, such as complications during birth, or
early infant abuse.