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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.
Previous models suggest biological and behavioral continua among healthy individuals (HC), at-risk condition, and full-blown schizophrenia (SCZ). Part of these continua may be captured by schizotypy, which shares subclinical traits and biological phenotypes with SCZ, including thalamic structural abnormalities. In this regard, previous findings have suggested that multivariate volumetric patterns of individual thalamic nuclei discriminate HC from SCZ. These results were obtained using machine learning, which allows case–control classification at the single-subject level. However, machine learning accuracy is usually unsatisfactory possibly due to phenotype heterogeneity. Indeed, a source of misclassification may be related to thalamic structural characteristics of those HC with high schizotypy, which may resemble structural abnormalities of SCZ. We hypothesized that thalamic structural heterogeneity is related to schizotypy, such that high schizotypal burden would implicate misclassification of those HC whose thalamic patterns resemble SCZ abnormalities.
Following a previous report, we used Random Forests to predict diagnosis in a case–control sample (SCZ = 131, HC = 255) based on thalamic nuclei gray matter volumes estimates. Then, we investigated whether the likelihood to be classified as SCZ (π-SCZ) was associated with schizotypy in 174 HC, evaluated with the Schizotypal Personality Questionnaire.
Prediction accuracy was 72.5%. Misclassified HC had higher positive schizotypy scores, which were correlated with π-SCZ. Results were specific to thalamic rather than whole-brain structural features.
These findings strengthen the relevance of thalamic structural abnormalities to SCZ and suggest that multivariate thalamic patterns are correlates of the continuum between schizotypy in HC and the full-blown disease.
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