The effects of psychosis risk variants on brain connectivity: a review

Front Psychiatry. 2012 Mar 9;3:18. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2012.00018. eCollection 2012.


In light of observed changes in connectivity in schizophrenia and the highly heritable nature of the disease, neural connectivity may serve as an important intermediate phenotype for schizophrenia. However, how individual variants confer altered connectivity and which measure of brain connectivity is more proximal to the underlying genetic architecture (i.e., functional or structural) has not been well delineated. In this review we consider these issues and the relative sensitivity of imaging methodologies to schizophrenia-related changes in connectivity. We searched PubMed for studies considering schizophrenia risk genes AND functional or structural connectivity. Where data was available, summary statistics were used to determine an estimate of effect size (i.e., Cohen's d). A random-effects meta-analysis was used to consider (1) the largest effect and (2) all significant effects between functional and structural studies. Schizophrenia risk variants involved in neurotransmission, neurodevelopment and myelin function were found to be associated with altered neural connectivity. On average, schizophrenia risk genes had a large effect on functional (mean d = 0.76) and structural connectivity (mean d = 1.04). The examination of the largest effect size indicated that the outcomes of functional and structural studies were comparable (Q = 2.17, p > 0.05). Conversely, consideration of effect size estimates for all significant effects suggest that reported effect sizes in structural connectivity studies were more variable than in functional connectivity studies, and that there was a significant lack of homogeneity across the modalities (Q = 6.928, p = 0.008). Given the more variable profile of effect sizes associated with structural connectivity, these data may suggest that structural imaging methods are more sensitive to a wider range of effects, as opposed to functional studies which may only be able to determine large effects. These conclusions are limited by methodological considerations, and require further investigation involving larger samples, multiple genes, and novel analysis techniques for confirmation.

Keywords: effect size; functional connectivity; genotype; schizophrenia; structural connectivity.