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Corsellis Studies

The neurobiological basis of schizophrenia


In 1951, the British neuropathologist Professor Dr John Corsellis started a brain bank in the hospital he was working at. When a patient died, the brains were systematically added to the collection. After Dr Corsellis’s death in 1994, his colleague Dr Clive Burton continued his work,  until he passed away in 1997. In 2016, the collection was offered to different research organizations, among which SINAPS, that eventually received almost the entire psychiatric part of the collection.

What does the collection consist of?

The entire collection consists of over 8000 brains and has become one of the largest post-mortem brain collections in the world. The main part of the collection comes from patients with various neurological disorders, including brain tumors, dementia and epilepsy. However, more than 1300 brains were taken from patients with different psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia (660), recurrent depression (450), bipolar disorder (100), alcohol addiction, mental retardation (+100). Furthermore, the collection contains more than 1000 brains of patients without any neurological or psychiatric disorder.


WHy is this collection so valuable?

Getting access to brains of psychiatric patients is not easy. On the one hand, ethical regulations have made it more difficult to collect post-mortem tissue. On the other hand, it is not obvious to obtain an informed consent from patients whose judgement could be impaired, due to their psychiatric disorder (cfr. schizophrenia). Additionally, ethical objections of practitioner (and researcher) could play an important role as well.

Nonetheless, in order to understand the pathophysiology of psychiatric disorders, it is of crucial importance to investigate the brain, as both peripheral measurements on plasma or serum and brain imaging studies have their limitations. Lumbar punctures to obtain spinal fluid are much less accepted in the psychiatric clinical practice than in the field of neurology.

Furthermore, pre-clinical research cannot always answer specific research questions. Also the validity of some animal models is questioned, due to the complexity of most of the psychiatric disorders.

Post-mortem tissue is therefore the most direct access to the brain and could answer research questions that cannot be tackled by the techniques mentioned above.

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