Background: Emerging evidence implicates white matter (WM) abnormalities in the pathophysiology of schizophrenia. However, there is considerable heterogeneity in the presentation of WM abnormalities in the existing studies. The object of this study was to evaluate WM integrity in a large sample of patients with first-episode (FE) and chronic schizophrenia in comparison to matched control groups. Our goal was to assess whether WM findings occurred early in the illness or whether these abnormalities developed with the illness over time.
Methods: Participants included 114 patients with schizophrenia (31 FE and 83 chronic patients) and 138 matched controls. High-resolution structural and diffusion tensor images were obtained on all participants. Measures of fractional anisotropy (FA) were calculated for the 4 cortical lobes and the cerebellum and brain stem.
Results: FA was significant lower in patients vs controls in the whole brain and individually in the frontal, parietal, occipital, and temporal lobes. FA was not significantly different in the brain stem or cerebellum. FA differences were significant only in patients with chronic schizophrenia and not in the FE group.
Conclusions: We found global differences in the WM microstructure in patients with chronic but not FE schizophrenia. These findings suggest progressive alterations in WM microstructure.