Background: The insular cortex is a limbic integration region engaged in emotional and cognitive functions. Previously, we found that neuroleptic-naive subjects had abnormally small insular volumes compared with control subjects, with volume directly related to severity of psychotic symptoms.
Methods: To further investigate insular cortex abnormalities and their functional correlates, we measured insular gray matter volume and cortical surface size, using magnetic resonance images among 30 patients with schizophrenia and a matched control group. The sample was designed to represent a variety of phenomenologic profiles to provide sufficient variance in multiple measures, including severity of illness and exposure to neuroleptics (typical only).
Results: There were no significant differences in morphology between patients and control subjects; however, among patients, psychotic symptoms were inversely correlated with insular volume, replicating our previous finding in neuroleptic-naive subjects. Neuroleptic exposure had a specific effect on insular morphology: increasing drug exposure (measured in dose-years) correlated with larger insular volume.
Conclusions: This effect of neuroleptic exposure might account for the lack of difference in structural measures in this more chronic sample, whereas the initial study on neuroleptic-naive subjects showed group differences. Further research is needed to investigate the potential relationship between changes in insula volume from neuroleptic exposure and clinical outcome.