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Studying offspring of schizophrenia (SZo) and bipolar disorder patients (BDo) provides important information on the putative neurodevelopmental trajectories underlying development toward severe mental illnesses. We compared intracranial volume (ICV), as a marker for neurodevelopment, and global and local brain measures between SZo or BDo and control offspring (Co) in relation to IQ and psychopathology.
T1-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans were obtained from 146 participants (8–19 years; 40 SZo, 66 BDo, 40 Co). Linear mixed models were applied to compare ICV, global, and local brain measures between groups. To investigate the effect of ICV, IQ (four subtests Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children/Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-III) or presence of psychopathology these variables were each added to the model.
SZo and BDo had significantly lower IQ and more often met criteria for a lifetime psychiatric disorder than Co. ICV was significantly smaller in SZo than in BDo (d = −0.56) and Co (d = −0.59), which was largely independent of IQ (respectively, d = −0.54 and d = −0.35). After ICV correction, the cortex was significantly thinner in SZo than in BDo (d = −0.42) and Co (d = −0.75) and lateral ventricles were larger in BDo than in Co (d = 0.55). Correction for IQ or lifetime psychiatric diagnosis did not change these findings.
Despite sharing a lower IQ and a higher prevalence of psychiatric disorders, brain abnormalities in BDo appear less pronounced (but are not absent) than in SZo. Lower ICV in SZo implies that familial risk for schizophrenia has a stronger association with stunted early brain development than familial risk for bipolar disorder.
Neuroanatomical abnormalities in first-episode psychosis (FEP) tend to be subtle and widespread. The vast majority of previous studies have used small samples, and therefore may have been underpowered. In addition, most studies have examined participants at a single research site, and therefore the results may be specific to the local sample investigated. Consequently, the findings reported in the existing literature are highly heterogeneous. This study aimed to overcome these issues by testing for neuroanatomical abnormalities in individuals with FEP that are expressed consistently across several independent samples.
Structural Magnetic Resonance Imaging data were acquired from a total of 572 FEP and 502 age and gender comparable healthy controls at five sites. Voxel-based morphometry was used to investigate differences in grey matter volume (GMV) between the two groups. Statistical inferences were made at p < 0.05 after family-wise error correction for multiple comparisons.
FEP showed a widespread pattern of decreased GMV in fronto-temporal, insular and occipital regions bilaterally; these decreases were not dependent on anti-psychotic medication. The region with the most pronounced decrease – gyrus rectus – was negatively correlated with the severity of positive and negative symptoms.
This study identified a consistent pattern of fronto-temporal, insular and occipital abnormalities in five independent FEP samples; furthermore, the extent of these alterations is dependent on the severity of symptoms and duration of illness. This provides evidence for reliable neuroanatomical alternations in FEP, expressed above and beyond site-related differences in anti-psychotic medication, scanning parameters and recruitment criteria.
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