Background: The thalamus is a brain region of interest in the study of schizophrenia because it provides critical input to brain regions such as the prefrontal, cingulate, and temporal cortices, where abnormalities have been repeatedly observed in patients with schizophrenia. Postmortem anatomic studies have rarely investigated the thalamus in this population.
Methods: Postmortem tissue was obtained from the left hemisphere of eight male schizophrenic patients and eight male age-matched control subjects. The optical dissector stereologic procedure was used to count neurons in the mediodorsal (MD) and anteroventral/anteromedial (AV/AM) nuclei of the thalamus.
Results: The number of neurons and volume of the MD were significantly reduced by 35% and 24%, respectively. The MD cell number reduction was a consistent finding; every control subject had more and every schizophrenic subject had fewer than 3.5 million neurons. Neuron number was also significantly reduced (16%) in the AV/AM nuclei.
Conclusions: The present data indicate that schizophrenia is associated with robust reductions in nerve cell numbers in nuclei that communicate with the prefrontal cortex and limbic system. These thalamic anatomic deficits may be responsible, in part, for previous reports of such prefrontal cortical abnormalities as reduced synaptic density, reduced volume, and metabolic hypofunction.