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Schizophrenia (SZ) is a severe neuropsychiatric disorder associated with disrupted connectivity within the thalamic-cortico-cerebellar network. Resting-state functional connectivity studies have reported thalamic hypoconnectivity with the cerebellum and prefrontal cortex as well as thalamic hyperconnectivity with sensory cortical regions in SZ patients compared with healthy comparison participants (HCs). However, fundamental questions remain regarding the clinical significance of these connectivity abnormalities.
Resting state seed-based functional connectivity was used to investigate thalamus to whole brain connectivity using multi-site data including 183 SZ patients and 178 matched HCs. Statistical significance was based on a voxel-level FWE-corrected height threshold of p < 0.001. The relationships between positive and negative symptoms of SZ and regions of the brain demonstrating group differences in thalamic connectivity were examined.
HC and SZ participants both demonstrated widespread positive connectivity between the thalamus and cortical regions. Compared with HCs, SZ patients had reduced thalamic connectivity with bilateral cerebellum and anterior cingulate cortex. In contrast, SZ patients had greater thalamic connectivity with multiple sensory-motor regions, including bilateral pre- and post-central gyrus, middle/inferior occipital gyrus, and middle/superior temporal gyrus. Thalamus to middle temporal gyrus connectivity was positively correlated with hallucinations and delusions, while thalamus to cerebellar connectivity was negatively correlated with delusions and bizarre behavior.
Thalamic hyperconnectivity with sensory regions and hypoconnectivity with cerebellar regions in combination with their relationship to clinical features of SZ suggest that thalamic dysconnectivity may be a core neurobiological feature of SZ that underpins positive symptoms.
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