Many of the major neuropsychiatric illnesses, including schizophrenia, have a typical age of onset in late adolescence. Late adolescence may reflect a critical period in brain development making it particularly vulnerable for the onset of psychopathology. Neuroimaging studies that focus on this age range may provide unique insights into the onset and course of psychosis. In this review, we examine the evidence from 2 unique longitudinal cohorts that span the ages from early childhood through young adulthood; a study of childhood-onset schizophrenia where patients and siblings are followed from ages 6 through to their early twenties, and an ultra-high risk study where subjects (mean age of 19 years) are studied before and after the onset of psychosis. From the available evidence, we make an argument that subtle, regionally specific, and genetically influenced alterations during developmental age windows influence the course of psychosis and the resultant brain phenotype. The importance of examining trajectories of development and the need for future combined approaches, using multimodal imaging together with molecular studies is discussed.
© The Author 2011. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center. All rights reserved.