Objective: Previous reports have documented a striking progressive reduction in cortical gray matter volume during adolescence in patients with childhood-onset schizophrenia. This study examined the rate of loss in cortical gray matter volume in relation to age and clinical status in adolescent patients over a follow-up period of 2-6 years.
Method: A total of 131 brain magnetic resonance imaging scans were acquired for 60 subjects with childhood-onset schizophrenia (mean age=14.5 years, SD=2.5), and 140 scans were acquired for 64 matched healthy comparison subjects. One or more follow-up scans were acquired at approximately 2-year intervals for 39 subjects with childhood-onset schizophrenia and 43 healthy subjects. Developmental trajectories for total and regional brain volumes were examined in relation to age by using polynomial growth models and data from all available scans. The rate of gray matter reduction in patients with childhood-onset schizophrenia was examined in relation to developmental and clinical measures by using stepwise regression.
Results: Rates of brain volume reduction were significantly higher for patients with childhood-onset schizophrenia than for healthy comparison subjects. In childhood-onset schizophrenia, the rate of gray matter reduction was related to premorbid impairment and baseline severity of clinical symptoms but not to gender, ethnicity, or age at onset of the disorder. Unexpectedly, greater clinical improvement was significantly related to a higher rate of gray matter reduction. Longitudinal trajectories suggested that the rate of cortical loss plateaus during adolescence.
Conclusions: Striking loss of cerebral gray matter is seen through adolescence in patients with childhood-onset schizophrenia. The rate of reduction was related to premorbid impairment and baseline symptom severity, but it may also be in part a plastic response to illness.