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Glutamatergic dysfunction has been implicated in sensory integration deficits in schizophrenia, yet how glutamatergic function contributes to behavioural impairments and neural activities of sensory integration remains unknown.
Fifty schizophrenia patients and 43 healthy controls completed behavioural assessments for sensory integration and underwent magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) for measuring the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) glutamate levels. The correlation between glutamate levels and behavioural sensory integration deficits was examined in each group. A subsample of 20 pairs of patients and controls further completed an audiovisual sensory integration functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) task. Blood Oxygenation Level Dependent (BOLD) activation and task-dependent functional connectivity (FC) were assessed based on fMRI data. Full factorial analyses were performed to examine the Group-by-Glutamate Level interaction effects on fMRI measurements (group differences in correlation between glutamate levels and fMRI measurements) and the correlation between glutamate levels and fMRI measurements within each group.
We found that schizophrenia patients exhibited impaired sensory integration which was positively correlated with ACC glutamate levels. Multimodal analyses showed significantly Group-by-Glutamate Level interaction effects on BOLD activation as well as task-dependent FC in a ‘cortico-subcortical-cortical’ network (including medial frontal gyrus, precuneus, ACC, middle cingulate gyrus, thalamus and caudate) with positive correlations in patients and negative in controls.
Our findings indicate that ACC glutamate influences neural activities in a large-scale network during sensory integration, but the effects have opposite directionality between schizophrenia patients and healthy people. This implicates the crucial role of glutamatergic system in sensory integration processing in schizophrenia.
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