Schizophrenia--what does structural MRI show?

Tidsskr Nor Laegeforen. 2013 Apr 23;133(8):850-3. doi: 10.4045/tidsskr.12.1084.
[Article in English, Norwegian]


Background: Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder that affects several brain functions. MRI technology has enabled in vivo studies of brain anatomy in patients with schizophrenia aimed at understanding more about the disorder.

Method: This article is based on a search in PubMed on «schizophrenia MRI» and on the authors' own research and experience. We included structural MRI studies, carried out on humans, written in English. Here we present a selection of studies that we believe are representative of the field.

Results: In patients with schizophrenia, MR imaging shows a smaller total brain volume and enlarged ventricles. Specific subcortical regions are affected, with reduced hippocampal and thalamic volumes, and an increase in the volume of the globus pallidus. In the cortex can be seen changes in folding patterns and a reduction in cortical volume and thickness, most pronounced in the frontal and temporal lobes. These findings are at group level--there is a high degree of overlap between sick and healthy individuals, and the effect sizes are medium to small. Several of the changes are present at onset of the disorder; this supports the theory that schizophrenia may be related to abnormal neurodevelopment. Longitudinal anatomical changes are reported, but it is uncertain what these changes represent.

Interpretation: The research literature shows that schizophrenia has neuroanatomical correlates that can be seen at group level by studying MR images. Structural MRI cannot currently be used to identify schizophrenia at the level of the individual.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Atrophy / pathology
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology
  • Cerebral Ventricles / pathology
  • Hippocampus / pathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Schizophrenia / diagnosis*
  • Schizophrenia / pathology