Background: Progressive decreases in cortical gray matter volume have been reported in schizophrenia. However, studies of progressive change in deep brain nuclei and hippocampal-amygdala formation have not yielded consistent findings.
Methods: Two high-resolution, T1-weighted magnetic resonance images were collected 2 years apart in 56 schizophrenia and 62 control subjects. Large-deformation high-dimensional brain mapping was used to generate surfaces for deep brain nuclei and hippocampal-amygdala formation at baseline and follow-up. Repeated-measures analysis of variance was used to test for longitudinal changes in volume and shape.
Results: The pattern of progressive changes in the deep brain nuclei and hippocampal-amygdala formation in schizophrenia and control subjects was variable. Of the structures that receive direct projections from the cortex, the thalamus, caudate nucleus, nucleus accumbens, and hippocampus showed changes specific to subjects with schizophrenia, and changes in the amygdala and putamen were similar in both groups. Although different at baseline, no progressive change was observed in the globus pallidus, which does not receive direct projections from the cortex.
Conclusions: These findings suggest that the disease process of schizophrenia is associated with progressive effects on brain structure and that brain structures that receive direct, excitatory connections from the cortex may be more likely to show progressive changes, compared with brain structures that receive indirect, inhibitory connections from the cortex. These findings are also somewhat consistent with the hypothesis that overactivity of excitatory pathways in the brain may contribute to the neural degeneration that occurs in at least a subgroup of individuals with schizophrenia.