Hippocampal, amygdala and nucleus accumbens volume in first-episode schizophrenia patients and individuals at high familial risk: A cross-sectional comparison

Schizophr Res. 2015 Jun;165(1):45-51. doi: 10.1016/j.schres.2015.03.024. Epub 2015 Apr 10.


It is unknown whether brain changes occur prior to onset of schizophrenia or after it develops. Prospective familial high risk studies provide a good method to investigate this. In the Edinburgh High Risk Study, structural MRI scans of 150 young individuals at familial high risk of schizophrenia, 34 patients with first-episode schizophrenia and 36 matched controls were obtained. Of the high risk participants with scans suitable for analysis, 17 developed schizophrenia after the scans were taken, whilst 57 experienced isolated or sub-clinical psychotic symptoms, and 70 remained well. We used Freesurfer to extract volumetric measurements of the hippocampus, amygdala and nucleus accumbens with the aim of assessing whether any alterations found were present in all those at high risk, or selectively in the high risk cohort based on future clinical outcome, or only in those experiencing their first-episode of psychosis. We found no significant differences in any examined regions between controls and those at high risk, or between those at high risk who later developed schizophrenia and those who remained well. However, patients with first-episode schizophrenia demonstrated significant volumetric reductions in the bilateral hippocampus, left amygdala, and right nucleus accumbens compared to high risk individuals and healthy controls, which were not significantly associated with the intake of anti-psychotic medication or duration of illness. We found that patients had significantly smaller left amygdalae and bilateral hippocampus compared to HR[ill]. Our findings suggest that volumetric reductions of the hippocampus, amygdala and nucleus accumbens occur early in the first-episode of psychosis. The apparent absence of high risk versus control differences we found using Freesurfer is at odds with our previous studies conducted on the same sample, and possible methodological reasons for these apparent discrepancies are discussed.

Keywords: Amygdala; High-risk; Hippocampus; Nucleus accumbens; Schizophrenia; Structural MRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Amygdala / pathology*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Hippocampus / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Nucleus Accumbens / pathology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Schizophrenia / pathology*
  • Young Adult