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Prefrontal and Hippocampal Brain Volume Deficits: Role of Low Physical Activity on Brain Plasticity in First-Episode Schizophrenia Patients

  • Sarah C. McEwen (a1), Anthony Hardy (a2), Benjamin M. Ellingson (a1) (a2), Behnaz Jarrahi (a1), Navjot Sandhu (a1), Kenneth L. Subotnik (a1), Joseph Ventura (a1) and Keith H. Nuechterlein (a1) (a3)...


Our objective in the present study was to conduct the first empirical study of the effects of regular physical activity habits and their relationship with brain volume and cortical thickness in patients in the early phase of schizophrenia. Relationships between larger brain volumes and higher physical activity levels have been reported in samples of healthy and aging populations, but have never been explored in first-episode schizophrenia patients. Method: We collected MRI structural scans in 14 first-episode schizophrenia patients with either self-reported low or high physical activity levels. We found a reduction in total gray matter volume, prefrontal cortex (PFC), and hippocampal gray matter volumes in the low physical activity group compared to the high activity group. Cortical thickness in the dorsolateral and orbitofrontal PFC were also significantly reduced in the low physical activity group compared to the high activity group. In the combined sample, greater overall physical activity levels showed a non-significant tendency with better performance on tests of verbal memory and social cognition. Together these pilot study findings suggest that greater amounts of physical activity may have a positive influence on brain health and cognition in first-episode schizophrenia patients and support the implementation of physical exercise interventions in this patient population to improve brain plasticity and cognitive functioning. (JINS, 2015, 21, 868–879)


Corresponding author

Correspondence and reprint requests to: Sarah McEwen, University of California, Los Angeles, 760 Westwood Plaza, Mail Code: 696825, Los Angeles, CA 90095. E-mail:


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