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Negative symptoms are one of the most incapacitating features of Schizophrenia but their pathophysiology remains unclear. They have been linked to alterations in grey matter in several brain regions, but findings have been inconsistent. This may reflect the investigation of relatively small patient samples, and the confounding effects of chronic illness and exposure to antipsychotic medication. We sought to address these issues by investigating concurrently grey matter volumes (GMV) and cortical thickness (CTh) in a large sample of antipsychotic-naïve or minimally treated patients with First-Episode Schizophrenia (FES).
T1-weighted structural MRI brain scans were acquired from 180 antipsychotic-naïve or minimally treated patients recruited as part of the OPTiMiSE study. The sample was stratified into subgroups with (N = 88) or without (N = 92) Prominent Negative Symptoms (PMN), based on PANSS ratings at presentation. Regional GMV and CTh in the two groups were compared using Voxel-Based Morphometry (VBM) and FreeSurfer (FS). Between-group differences were corrected for multiple comparisons via Family-Wise Error (FWE) and Monte Carlo z-field simulation respectively at p < 0.05 (2-tailed).
The presence of PMN symptoms was associated with larger left inferior orbitofrontal volume (p = 0.03) and greater CTh in the left lateral orbitofrontal gyrus (p = 0.007), but reduced CTh in the left superior temporal gyrus (p = 0.009).
The findings highlight the role of orbitofrontal and temporal cortices in the pathogenesis of negative symptoms of Schizophrenia. As they were evident in generally untreated FEP patients, the results are unlikely to be related to effects of previous treatment or illness chronicity.
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.
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.
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