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Cognition heavily relies on social determinants and genetic background. Latin America comprises approximately 8% of the global population and faces unique challenges, many derived from specific demographic and socioeconomic variables, such as violence and inequality. While such factors have been described to influence mental health outcomes, no large-scale studies with Latin American population have been carried out. Therefore, we aim to describe the cognitive performance of a representative sample of Latin American individuals with schizophrenia and its relationship to clinical factors. Additionally, we aim to investigate how socioeconomic status (SES) relates to cognitive performance in patients and controls.
We included 1175 participants from five Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico): 864 individuals with schizophrenia and 311 unaffected subjects. All participants were part of projects that included cognitive evaluation with MATRICS Consensus Cognitive Battery and clinical assessments.
Patients showed worse cognitive performance than controls across all domains. Age and diagnosis were independent predictors, indicating similar trajectories of cognitive aging for both patients and controls. The SES factors of education, parental education, and income were more related to cognition in patients than in controls. Cognition was also influenced by symptomatology.
Patients did not show evidence of accelerated cognitive aging; however, they were most impacted by a lower SES suggestive of deprived environment than controls. These findings highlight the vulnerability of cognitive capacity in individuals with psychosis in face of demographic and socioeconomic factors in low- and middle-income countries.
Social and environmental factors such as poverty or violence modulate the risk and course of schizophrenia. However, how they affect the brain in patients with psychosis remains unclear.
We studied how environmental factors are related to brain structure in patients with schizophrenia and controls in Latin America, where these factors are large and unequally distributed.
This is a multicentre study of magnetic resonance imaging in patients with schizophrenia and controls from six Latin American cities. Total and voxel-level grey matter volumes, and their relationship with neighbourhood characteristics such as average income and homicide rates, were analysed with a general linear model.
A total of 334 patients with schizophrenia and 262 controls were included. Income was differentially related to total grey matter volume in both groups (P = 0.006). Controls showed a positive correlation between total grey matter volume and income (R = 0.14, P = 0.02). Surprisingly, this relationship was not present in patients with schizophrenia (R = −0.076, P = 0.17). Voxel-level analysis confirmed that this interaction was widespread across the cortex. After adjusting for global brain changes, income was positively related to prefrontal cortex volumes only in controls. Conversely, the hippocampus in patients with schizophrenia, but not in controls, was relatively larger in affluent environments. There was no significant correlation between environmental violence and brain structure.
Our results highlight the interplay between environment, particularly poverty, and individual characteristics in psychosis. This is particularly important for harsh environments such as low- and middle-income countries, where potentially less brain vulnerability (less grey matter loss) is sufficient to become unwell in adverse (poor) environments.
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