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Social and environmental factors such as poverty or violence modulate the risk and course of schizophrenia. However, how they affect the brain in patients with psychosis remains unclear.
We studied how environmental factors are related to brain structure in patients with schizophrenia and controls in Latin America, where these factors are large and unequally distributed.
This is a multicentre study of magnetic resonance imaging in patients with schizophrenia and controls from six Latin American cities. Total and voxel-level grey matter volumes, and their relationship with neighbourhood characteristics such as average income and homicide rates, were analysed with a general linear model.
A total of 334 patients with schizophrenia and 262 controls were included. Income was differentially related to total grey matter volume in both groups (P = 0.006). Controls showed a positive correlation between total grey matter volume and income (R = 0.14, P = 0.02). Surprisingly, this relationship was not present in patients with schizophrenia (R = −0.076, P = 0.17). Voxel-level analysis confirmed that this interaction was widespread across the cortex. After adjusting for global brain changes, income was positively related to prefrontal cortex volumes only in controls. Conversely, the hippocampus in patients with schizophrenia, but not in controls, was relatively larger in affluent environments. There was no significant correlation between environmental violence and brain structure.
Our results highlight the interplay between environment, particularly poverty, and individual characteristics in psychosis. This is particularly important for harsh environments such as low- and middle-income countries, where potentially less brain vulnerability (less grey matter loss) is sufficient to become unwell in adverse (poor) environments.
Resistance to antipsychotic treatment affects up to 30% of patients with schizophrenia. Although the time course of development of treatment-resistant schizophrenia (TRS) varies from patient to patient, the reasons for these variations remain unknown. Growing evidence suggests brain dysconnectivity as a significant feature of schizophrenia. In this study, we compared fractional anisotropy (FA) of brain white matter between TRS and non–treatment-resistant schizophrenia (non-TRS) patients. Our central hypothesis was that TRS is associated with reduced FA values.
TRS was defined as the persistence of moderate to severe symptoms after adequate treatment with at least two antipsychotics from different classes. Diffusion-tensor brain MRI obtained images from 34 TRS participants and 51 non-TRS. Whole-brain analysis of FA and axial, radial, and mean diffusivity were performed using Tract-Based Spatial Statistics (TBSS) and FMRIB’s Software Library (FSL), yielding a contrast between TRS and non-TRS patients, corrected for multiple comparisons using family-wise error (FWE) < 0.05.
We found a significant reduction in FA in the splenium of corpus callosum (CC) in TRS when compared to non-TRS. The antipsychotic dose did not relate to the splenium CC.
Our results suggest that the focal abnormality of CC may be a potential biomarker of TRS.
Mental disorders can have a major impact on brain development. Peripheral blood concentrations of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) are lower in adult psychiatric disorders. Serum BDNF concentrations and BDNF genotype have been associated with cortical maturation in children and adolescents. In 2 large independent samples, this study tests associations between serum BDNF concentrations, brain structure, and psychopathology, and the effects of BDNF genotype on BDNF serum concentrations in late childhood and early adolescence.
Children and adolescents (7-14 years old) from 2 cities (n = 267 in Porto Alegre; n = 273 in São Paulo) were evaluated as part of the Brazilian high-risk cohort (HRC) study. Serum BDNF concentrations were quantified by sandwich ELISA. Genotyping was conducted from blood or saliva samples using the SNParray Infinium HumanCore Array BeadChip. Subcortical volumes and cortical thickness were quantified using FreeSurfer. The Development and Well-Being Behavior Assessment was used to identify the presence of a psychiatric disorder.
Serum BDNF concentrations were not associated with subcortical volumes or with cortical thickness. Serum BDNF concentration did not differ between participants with and without mental disorders, or between Val homozygotes and Met carriers.
No evidence was found to support serum BDNF concentrations as a useful marker of developmental differences in brain and behavior in early life. Negative findings were replicated in 2 of the largest independent samples investigated to date.
Several studies have shown cortical volume loss in frontotemporal regions in schizophrenia patients, and it is known that these reductions may be associated with disease symptoms and cognitive deficits. The aim of this study was to investigate possible cortical thickness correlations in frontotemporal regions in relation to age at onset and duration of illness.
One hundred forty-eight schizophrenia patients (97 males; age and SD 36.30 ± 10.06) and 87 (57 males; age and SD 36.48 ± 10.10) age-matched healthy subjects underwent a brain MRI scan. Cortical segmentation and surface statistical analysis were performed using the FreeSurfer software package. Results were corrected for multiple comparisons using the Monte Carlo method considering a cluster-corrected Type I Error of 5%.
Compared to controls, schizophrenia patients presented significant cortical thinning in the frontotemporal, parietal, and occipital cortices. No correlation between prefrontal cortex thickness and duration of illness in patients with schizophrenia or between frontotemporal cortical thickness and age at onset was found. However, a significant interaction between age and diagnosis was observed on frontal cortical thickness with patients presenting a thinner cortex than expected for age.
Although there was no correlation between age of onset and duration of illness with brain volume, our findings suggest that there is an accelerated cortical loss in schizophrenia, thus reinforcing the progressive processes of the disease.
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