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Schizophrenia is a highly heritable disorder with undetermined neurobiological causes. Understanding the impact on brain anatomy of carrying genetic risk for the disorder will contribute to uncovering its neurobiological underpinnings.
To examine the effect of rare copy number variants (CNVs) associated with schizophrenia on brain cortical anatomy in a sample of unaffected participants from the UK Biobank.
We used regression analyses to compare cortical thickness and surface area (total and across gyri) between 120 unaffected carriers of rare CNVs associated with schizophrenia and 16 670 participants without any pathogenic CNV. A measure of cortical thickness and surface area covariance across gyri was also compared between groups.
Carrier status was associated with reduced surface area (β = −0.020 mm2, P < 0.001) and less robustly with increased cortical thickness (β = 0.015 mm, P = 0.035), and with increased covariance in thickness (carriers z = 0.31 v. non-carriers z = 0.22, P < 0.0005). Associations were mainly present in frontal and parietal areas and driven by a limited number of rare risk alleles included in our analyses (mainly 15q11.2 deletion for surface area and 16p13.11 duplication for thickness covariance).
Results for surface area conformed with previous clinical findings, supporting surface area reductions as an indicator of genetic liability for schizophrenia. Results for cortical thickness, though, argued against its validity as a potential risk marker. Increased structural thickness covariance across gyri also appears related to risk for schizophrenia. The heterogeneity found across the effects of rare risk alleles suggests potential different neurobiological gateways into schizophrenia's phenotype.
Rare copy number variants (CNVs) are associated with risk of neurodevelopmental disorders characterised by varying degrees of cognitive impairment, including schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability. However, the effects of many individual CNVs in carriers without neurodevelopmental disorders are not yet fully understood, and little is known about the effects of reciprocal copy number changes of known pathogenic loci.
We aimed to analyse the effect of CNV carrier status on cognitive performance and measures of occupational and social outcomes in unaffected individuals from the UK Biobank.
We called CNVs in the full UK Biobank sample and analysed data from 420 247 individuals who passed CNV quality control, reported White British or Irish ancestry and were not diagnosed with neurodevelopmental disorders. We analysed 33 pathogenic CNVs, including their reciprocal deletions/duplications, for association with seven cognitive tests and four general measures of functioning: academic qualifications, occupation, household income and Townsend Deprivation Index.
Most CNVs (24 out of 33) were associated with reduced performance on at least one cognitive test or measure of functioning. The changes on the cognitive tests were modest (average reduction of 0.13 s.d.) but varied markedly between CNVs. All 12 schizophrenia-associated CNVs were associated with significant impairments on measures of functioning.
CNVs implicated in neurodevelopmental disorders, including schizophrenia, are associated with cognitive deficits, even among unaffected individuals. These deficits may be subtle but CNV carriers have significant disadvantages in educational attainment and ability to earn income in adult life.
Fractional anisotropy in the uncinate fasciculus and the cingulum may be biomarkers for bipolar disorder and may even be distinctly affected in different subtypes of bipolar disorder, an area in need of further research.
This study aims to establish if fractional anisotropy in the uncinate fasciculus and cingulum shows differences between healthy controls, patients with bipolar disorder type I (BD-I) and type II (BD-II), and their unaffected siblings.
Fractional anisotropy measures from the uncinate fasciculus, cingulum body and parahippocampal cingulum were compared with tractography methods in 40 healthy controls, 32 patients with BD-I, 34 patients with BD-II, 17 siblings of patients with BD-I and 14 siblings of patients with BD-II.
The main effects were found in both the right and left uncinate fasciculus, with patients with BD-I showing significantly lower fractional anisotropy than both patients with BD-II and healthy controls. Participants with BD-II did not differ from healthy controls. Siblings showed similar effects in the left uncinate fasciculus. In a subsequent complementary analysis, we investigated the association between fractional anisotropy in the uncinate fasciculus and polygenic risk for bipolar disorder and psychosis in a large cohort (n = 570) of healthy participants. However, we found no significant association.
Fractional anisotropy in the uncinate fasciculus differs significantly between patients with BD-I and patients with BD-II and healthy controls. This supports the hypothesis of differences in the physiological sub-tract between bipolar disorder subtypes. Similar results were found in unaffected siblings, suggesting the potential for this biomarker to represent an endophenotype for BD-I. However, fractional anisotropy in the uncinate fasciculus seems unrelated to polygenic risk for bipolar disorder or psychosis.
Declaration of interest
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