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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.
Disturbed sleep and activity are prominent features of bipolar disorder type I (BP-I). However, the relationship of sleep and activity characteristics to brain structure and behavior in euthymic BP-I patients and their non-BP-I relatives is unknown. Additionally, underlying genetic relationships between these traits have not been investigated.
Relationships between sleep and activity phenotypes, assessed using actigraphy, with structural neuroimaging (brain) and cognitive and temperament (behavior) phenotypes were investigated in 558 euthymic individuals from multi-generational pedigrees including at least one member with BP-I. Genetic correlations between actigraphy-brain and actigraphy-behavior associations were assessed, and bivariate linkage analysis was conducted for trait pairs with evidence of shared genetic influences.
More physical activity and longer awake time were significantly associated with increased brain volumes and cortical thickness, better performance on neurocognitive measures of long-term memory and executive function, and less extreme scores on measures of temperament (impulsivity, cyclothymia). These associations did not differ between BP-I patients and their non-BP-I relatives. For nine activity-brain or activity-behavior pairs there was evidence for shared genetic influence (genetic correlations); of these pairs, a suggestive bivariate quantitative trait locus on chromosome 7 for wake duration and verbal working memory was identified.
Our findings indicate that increased physical activity and more adequate sleep are associated with increased brain size, better cognitive function and more stable temperament in BP-I patients and their non-BP-I relatives. Additionally, we found evidence for pleiotropy of several actigraphy-behavior and actigraphy-brain phenotypes, suggesting a shared genetic basis for these traits.
Positive symptoms are a useful predictor of aggression in schizophrenia. Although a similar pattern of abnormal brain structures related to both positive symptoms and aggression has been reported, this observation has not yet been confirmed in a single sample.
To study the association between positive symptoms and aggression in schizophrenia on a neurobiological level, a prospective meta-analytic approach was employed to analyze harmonized structural neuroimaging data from 10 research centers worldwide. We analyzed brain MRI scans from 902 individuals with a primary diagnosis of schizophrenia and 952 healthy controls.
The result identified a widespread cortical thickness reduction in schizophrenia compared to their controls. Two separate meta-regression analyses revealed that a common pattern of reduced cortical gray matter thickness within the left lateral temporal lobe and right midcingulate cortex was significantly associated with both positive symptoms and aggression.
These findings suggested that positive symptoms such as formal thought disorder and auditory misperception, combined with cognitive impairments reflecting difficulties in deploying an adaptive control toward perceived threats, could escalate the likelihood of aggression in schizophrenia.
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