Pathways that make voices: white matter changes in auditory hallucinations

Daniela Hubl, Thomas Koenig, Werner Strik, Andrea Federspiel, Roland Kreis, Chris Boesch, Stephan E Maier, Gerhard Schroth, Karl Lovblad, Thomas Dierks
Archives of General Psychiatry 2004, 61 (7): 658-68

BACKGROUND: The origin of auditory hallucinations, which are one of the core symptoms of schizophrenia, is still a matter of debate. It has been hypothesized that alterations in connectivity between frontal and parietotemporal speech-related areas might contribute to the pathogenesis of auditory hallucinations. These networks are assumed to become dysfunctional during the generation and monitoring of inner speech. Magnetic resonance diffusion tensor imaging is a relatively new in vivo method to investigate the directionality of cortical white matter tracts.

OBJECTIVE: To investigate, using diffusion tensor imaging, whether previously described abnormal activation patterns observed during auditory hallucinations relate to changes in structural interconnections between the frontal and parietotemporal speech-related areas.

METHODS: A 1.5 T magnetic resonance scanner was used to acquire twelve 5-mm slices covering the Sylvian fissure. Fractional anisotropy was assessed in 13 patients prone to auditory hallucinations, in 13 patients without auditory hallucinations, and in 13 healthy control subjects. Structural magnetic resonance imaging was conducted in the same session. Based on an analysis of variance, areas with significantly different fractional anisotropy values between groups were selected for a confirmatory region of interest analysis. Additionally, descriptive voxel-based t tests between the groups were computed.

RESULTS: In patients with hallucinations, we found significantly higher white matter directionality in the lateral parts of the temporoparietal section of the arcuate fasciculus and in parts of the anterior corpus callosum compared with control subjects and patients without hallucinations. Comparing patients with hallucinations with patients without hallucinations, we found significant differences most pronounced in the left hemispheric fiber tracts, including the cingulate bundle.

CONCLUSION: Our findings suggest that during inner speech, the alterations of white matter fiber tracts in patients with frequent hallucinations lead to abnormal coactivation in regions related to the acoustical processing of external stimuli. This abnormal activation may account for the patients' inability to distinguish self-generated thoughts from external stimulation.

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