Are Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia Neuroanatomically Distinct? An Anatomical Likelihood Meta-analysis

Front Hum Neurosci. 2010 Oct 26;4:189. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2010.00189. eCollection 2010.


Objective: There is renewed debate on whether modern diagnostic classification should adopt a dichotomous or dimensional approach to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. This study synthesizes data from voxel-based studies of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder to estimate the extent to which these conditions have a common neuroanatomical phenotype.

Methods: A post-hoc meta-analytic estimation of the extent to which bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or both conditions contribute to brain gray matter differences compared to controls was achieved using a novel application of the conventional anatomical likelihood estimation (ALE) method. 19 schizophrenia studies (651 patients and 693 controls) were matched as closely as possible to 19 bipolar studies (540 patients and 745 controls).

Result: Substantial overlaps in the regions affected by schizophrenia and bipolar disorder included regions in prefrontal cortex, thalamus, left caudate, left medial temporal lobe, and right insula. Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia jointly contributed to clusters in the right hemisphere, but schizophrenia was almost exclusively associated with additional gray matter deficits (left insula and amygdala) in the left hemisphere.

Limitation: The current meta-analytic method has a number of constraints. Importantly, only studies identifying differences between controls and patient groups could be included in this analysis.

Conclusion: Bipolar disorder shares many of the same brain regions as schizophrenia. However, relative to neurotypical controls, lower gray matter volume in schizophrenia is more extensive and includes the amygdala. This fresh application of ALE accommodates multiple studies in a relatively unbiased comparison. Common biological mechanisms may explain the neuroanatomical overlap between these major disorders, but explaining why brain differences are more extensive in schizophrenia remains challenging.

Keywords: bipolar; gray matter; meta-analysis; schizophrenia; voxel-based.