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Neurocognitive and functional neuroimaging studies point to frontal lobe abnormalities in schizophrenia. Molecular and behavioural genetic studies suggest that the frontal lobe is under significant genetic influence. We carried out structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the frontal lobe in monozygotic (MZ) twins concordant or discordant for schizophrenia and healthy MZ control twins.
The sample comprised 21 concordant pairs, 17 discordant affected and 18 discordant unaffected twins from 19 discordant pairs, and 27 control pairs. Groups were matched on sociodemographic variables. Patient groups (concordant, discordant affected) did not differ on clinical variables. Volumes of superior, middle, inferior and orbital frontal gyri were calculated using the Cavalieri principle on the basis of manual tracing of anatomic boundaries. Group differences were investigated covarying for whole-brain volume, gender and age.
Results for superior frontal gyrus showed that twins with schizophrenia (i.e. concordant twins and discordant affected twins) had reduced volume compared to twins without schizophrenia (i.e. discordant unaffected and control twins), indicating an effect of illness. For middle and orbital frontal gyrus, concordant (but not discordant affected) twins differed from non-schizophrenic twins. There were no group differences in inferior frontal gyrus volume.
These findings suggest that volume reductions in the superior frontal gyrus are associated with a diagnosis of schizophrenia (in the presence or absence of a co-twin with schizophrenia). On the other hand, volume reductions in middle and orbital frontal gyri are seen only in concordant pairs, perhaps reflecting the increased genetic vulnerability in this group.
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