White Matter Injury, Neural Connectivity and the Pathophysiology of Psychiatric Disorders
Psychiatric disorders are characterized by diverse clinical manifestations that include deficits in cognition, perception, mood and arousal. These complex processes are not mediated by any specific brain region but require the coordinated activity of several areas that are anatomically connected. Impairments in these neural circuits may therefore be expected to result in an attenuation of the functions regulated by them. The white matter provides the structural and physiological substrate of neural circuits in the central nervous system. We propose that injury to the white matter, from diverse biological sources, may compromise neural connectivity by associated axonal injury or impaired conductivity. Either mechanism could result in clusters of signs and symptoms that are currently recognized as psychiatric disorders. The role of white matter impairment in the pathophysiology of psychiatric illness is under-appreciated in the neurosciences. Focused translational research aimed at identifying the links between white matter compromise and specific behaviors are necessary for a more thorough understanding of the etiology of mental illness to emerge.