Association between white matter fiber integrity and subclinical psychotic symptoms in schizophrenia patients and unaffected relatives

Christian Knöchel, Laurence O'Dwyer, Gilberto Alves, Britta Reinke, Jörg Magerkurth, Anna Rotarska-Jagiela, David Prvulovic, Harald Hampel, David E J Linden, Viola Oertel-Knöchel
Schizophrenia Research 2012, 140 (1-3): 129-35
In this study, we investigate whether aberrant integrity of white matter (WM) fiber tracts represents a genetically determined biological marker of schizophrenia (SZ), and its relation with clinical symptoms. We collected brain DTI data from 28 SZ patients, 18 first-degree relatives and 22 matched controls and used voxel-based analysis with tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) in order to compare fractional anisotropy (FA) between groups. Mean voxel-based FA values from the entire skeleton of each group were compared. We did a multiple regression analysis, followed by single post-hoc contrasts between groups. FA values were extracted from the statistically significant areas. The results showed significantly smaller FA values for SZ patients in comparison with controls in cortico-spinal tracts, in commissural fibers, in thalamic projections, in association fibers and in cingulum bundles. A significant increase of FA in SZ patients in comparison with healthy controls was only found in the arcuate fasciculus. Relatives had intermediate values between patients and controls which were deemed significant in the comparison to patients and controls in association fibers, arcuate fasciculus and cingulum bundles. Lower FA values in association fibers were significantly associated with predisposition toward hallucinations (in SZ patients and relatives), with higher PANSS scores of positive symptoms and with duration of illness (SZ patients). Our results suggest that clinical and subclinical presentations of psychotic symptoms are associated with aberrant integrity of multiple WM tracts. This association may represent an endophenotype of schizophrenia, since it is present in unaffected relatives as well. Such endophenotypes may serve as quantitative traits for future genetic studies and as candidate markers for early and preclinical identification of subjects at risk.

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