Background: Brain imaging, molecular genetic, and ultrastructural evidence indicate the existence of pathologic alterations in the cortical and subcortical white matter of schizophrenic patients.
Methods: We performed a stereologic analysis of numbers, densities, and spatial distribution of oligodendrocytes in layer III and in the gyral white matter of Brodmann's area 9 in the superior frontal gyrus to assess whether these cells are affected in schizophrenia. Counts were obtained on Nissl-stained materials and on sections immunolabeled for the oligodendrocyte marker 2',3'-cyclic nucleotide-3'-phosphodiesterase (CNPase) in seven schizophrenic and seven age-matched control cases.
Results: A 28% decrease in total numbers (or densities) of cortical layer III oligodendrocytes and a 27% decrease in the white matter were detected in schizophrenic compared with control cases based on CNPase immunostaining. Nissl and CNPase immunohistochemistry yielded comparable results. The spatial distribution of oligodendrocytes in area 9 white matter exhibited a less clustered arrangement in schizophrenic cases.
Conclusions: These results suggest a severe pathology of oligodendrocytes in schizophrenia and provide a quantitative cellular correlate of the white matter changes observed by brain imaging in vivo, showing reduced fractional anisotropy in schizophrenia. The data support recent evidence that several genes encoding myelin-related proteins consistently exhibit reduced expression in schizophrenia.