Objective: The thalamus, a highly evolved sensory and motor gateway to the cortex, has been implicated in the pathophysiology of several illnesses, including schizophrenia. Several studies have suggested thalamic volume differences in patients with schizophrenia, although only a few studies have examined thalamic structure in new-onset patients.
Method: The authors used magnetic resonance imaging to measure thalamic volumes in previously untreated patients with first-episode schizophrenia (N=16) relative to those of healthy comparison subjects (N=25). The age range of the patients and comparison subjects was 15 to 45 years of age. Thalamic volumes in the right and left hemispheres were segmented and analyzed, both separately and as total thalamic volume, by a rater blind to clinical data. The thalamus was further segmented into regions that roughly reflected individual thalamic nuclei. Analysis of covariance was used to control for intracranial volume.
Results: Right, left, and total thalamic volumes of the patients with schizophrenia were significantly smaller than those of the comparison subjects. Significantly smaller volumes were found in the left central medial subdivision of the patients as well as a smaller volume in the right central medial subdivision that approached significance. These regions primarily comprised the dorsomedial nucleus, a thalamic nucleus thought to be an important component of aberrant circuitry in schizophrenia. Significant volume differences were also seen in the left anterior, right anterior, and right posterior medial subdivisions.
Conclusions: These findings suggest significant thalamic volumetric differences between patients with newly diagnosed schizophrenia and healthy comparison subjects. Future analysis of individual thalamic nuclei may reveal important, specific relationships between thalamic abnormalities and schizophrenia.