Background: Schizophrenia is associated with deficits in working memory, a cognitive function that depends on the connections of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) with the thalamus and other cortical regions. Pyramidal neurons in PFC deep layer 3 play a central role in both thalamocortical and corticocortical circuitry. Given that somal size tends to be associated with both the dendritic and axonal architecture of a neuron, abnormalities in these circuits in schizophrenia may be associated with a change in the somal size of deep layer 3 pyramidal neurons.
Methods: We used design-based stereology to estimate the somal volume of pyramidal neurons in deep layer 3 of PFC area 9 in 28 subjects with schizophrenia, each of whom was matched to 1 normal comparison subject for sex, age, and postmortem interval.
Results: The geometric mean of the somal volume estimates in the subjects with schizophrenia was significantly (P =.02) decreased by 9.2%. This decrease was associated with a shift in the distribution of somal volumes toward smaller sizes. Neither antipsychotic medication treatment history nor duration of illness was associated with somal size.
Conclusions: These findings independently replicate previous reports of decreased somal size in the PFC in schizophrenia. The reduction in size of deep layer 3 pyramidal neurons is consistent with abnormalities in thalamocortical and corticocortical circuitry, suggesting that disruption of these circuits may contribute to cognitive abnormalities in schizophrenia.