Background: Structural and functional abnormalities in frontal-parietal circuitry are thought to be associated with working memory (WM) deficits in patients with schizophrenia. This study examines whether recent-onset schizophrenia is associated with anatomical changes in the superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF), the main frontal-parietal white matter connection, and whether the integrity of the SLF is related to WM performance.
Methods: We applied a novel registration approach (Tract-Based Spatial Statistics [TBSS]) to diffusion tensor imaging data to examine fractional anisotropy (FA) in the left and right SLF in 12 young adult patients with recent-onset schizophrenia and 17 matched control subjects.
Results: Schizophrenia patients showed lower FA values than control subjects across the entire SLF, with particular deficits on the left SLF. Fractional anisotropy values were correlated with performance on a verbal WM task in both patient and control groups in the left but not right SLF.
Conclusions: Recent-onset schizophrenia patients show deficits in frontal-parietal connections, key components of WM circuitry. Moreover, the integrity of this physiological connection predicted performance on a verbal WM task, indicating that this structural change may have important functional implications. These findings support the view that schizophrenia is a disorder of brain connectivity and implicate white matter changes detectable in the early phases of the illness as one source of this dysfunction.