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Excessive alcohol use is associated with brain damage but less is known about brain effects from moderate alcohol use. Previous findings indicate that patients with severe mental illness, particularly schizophrenia, are vulnerable to alcohol-related brain damage. We investigated the association between levels of alcohol consumption and cortical and subcortical brain structures in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder patients and healthy controls, and investigated for group differences for this association.
1.5 T structural magnetic resonance images were acquired of 609 alcohol-using participants (165 schizophrenia patients, 172 bipolar disorder patients, 272 healthy controls), mean (s.d.) age 34.2 (9.9) years, 52% men. Past year alcohol use was assessed with the Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test – Consumption part (AUDIT-C). General linear models were used to investigate associations between AUDIT-C score and cortical thickness, surface area, and total brain and subcortical volumes.
Increasing AUDIT-C score was linearly associated with thinner cortex in medial and dorsolateral frontal and parieto-occipital regions, and with larger left lateral ventricle volume. There was no significant interaction between AUDIT-C score and diagnostic group. The findings remained significant after controlling for substance use disorders, antipsychotic medication and illness severity.
The results show a dose-dependent relationship between alcohol use and thinner cortex and ventricular expansion. The findings are present also at lower levels of alcohol consumption and do not differ between schizophrenia or bipolar disorder patients compared to healthy controls. Our results do not support previous findings of increased vulnerability for alcohol-related brain damage in severe mental illness.
First-episode psychosis (FEP) patients show structural brain abnormalities. Whether the changes are progressive or not remain under debate, and the results from longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies are mixed. We investigated if FEP patients showed a different pattern of regional brain structural change over a 1-year period compared with healthy controls, and if putative changes correlated with clinical characteristics and outcome.
MRIs of 79 FEP patients [SCID-I-verified diagnoses: schizophrenia, psychotic bipolar disorder, or other psychoses, mean age 27.6 (s.d. = 7.7) years, 66% male] and 82 healthy controls [age 29.3 (s.d. = 7.2) years, 66% male] were acquired from the same 1.5 T scanner at baseline and 1-year follow-up as part of the Thematically Organized Psychosis (TOP) study, Oslo, Norway. Scans were automatically processed with the longitudinal stream in FreeSurfer that creates an unbiased within-subject template image. General linear models were used to analyse longitudinal change in a wide range of subcortical volumes and detailed thickness and surface area estimates across the entire cortex, and associations with clinical characteristics.
FEP patients and controls did not differ significantly in annual percentage change in cortical thickness or area in any cortical region, or in any of the subcortical structures after adjustment for multiple comparisons. Within the FEP group, duration of untreated psychosis, age at illness onset, antipsychotic medication use and remission at follow-up were not related to longitudinal brain change.
We found no significant longitudinal brain changes over a 1-year period in FEP patients. Our results do not support early progressive brain changes in psychotic disorders.
The increased occurrence of obstetric complications (OCs) in patients with schizophrenia suggests that alterations in neurodevelopment may be of importance to the aetiology of the illness. Abnormal cortical folding may reflect subtle deviation from normal neurodevelopment during the foetal or neonatal period. In the present study, we hypothesized that OCs would be related to cortical folding abnormalities in schizophrenia patients corresponding to areas where patients with schizophrenia display altered cortical folding when compared with healthy controls.
In total, 54 schizophrenia patients and 54 healthy control subjects underwent clinical examination and magnetic resonance image scanning on a 1.5 T scanner. Information on OCs was collected from original birth records. An automated algorithm was used to calculate a three-dimensional local gyrification index (lGI) at numerous points across the cortical mantle.
In both schizophrenia patients and healthy controls, an increasing number of OCs was significantly related to lower lGI in the left pars triangularis (p<0.0005) in Broca's area. For five other anatomical cortical parcellations in the left hemisphere, a similar trend was demonstrated. No significant relationships between OCs and lGI were found in the right hemisphere and there were no significant case–control differences in lGI.
The reduced cortical folding in the left pars triangularis, associated with OCs in both patients and control subjects suggests that the cortical effect of OCs is caused by factors shared by schizophrenia patients and healthy controls rather than factors related to schizophrenia alone.
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