Smaller frontal gray matter volume in postmortem schizophrenic brains

Am J Psychiatry. 2002 Dec;159(12):1983-91. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.159.12.1983.


Objective: The prefrontal cortex exhibits prominent functional, biochemical, and anatomic abnormalities in schizophrenic patients. However, smaller than normal volume of the frontal lobe has not been found in previous postmortem studies of schizophrenic subjects, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of schizophrenic subjects have not consistently revealed frontal volumetric deficits. The variability in MRI findings may be related partly to difficulty in defining the posterior border of the frontal lobe. In this study, precise measurements of frontal lobe volume from postmortem brains were derived by defining the posterior border according to the brain atlas of Talairach and Tournoux and by applying stereologic methods to estimate gray and white matter volumes.

Method: Whole, or nearly whole, formalin-fixed left hemispheres from 14 schizophrenic and 19 normal comparison subjects were analyzed. Total cortical gray and white matter volumes, as well as frontal cortical gray and white matter volumes, were measured by using the Cavalieri method.

Results: Only frontal gray matter volume was significantly smaller in the schizophrenic subjects than in the comparison subjects (12% difference). The differences between groups in total gray and white matter volumes and frontal white matter volume (6%-8% smaller in the schizophrenic subjects than in the comparison subjects) did not reach statistical significance.

Conclusions: The smaller frontal gray matter volume observed in schizophrenic brains suggests that pathology of the frontal lobe may be more severe than that of the three posterior lobes and may account for the prominence of prefrontal dysfunction associated with schizophrenia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Culture Techniques
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / abnormalities*
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Schizophrenia / pathology*