Neuroimaging studies demonstrate gray matter (GM) macrostructural abnormalities in patients with schizophrenia (SCZ). While ex-vivo and genetic studies suggest cellular pathology associated with abnormal neurodevelopmental processes in SCZ, few in-vivo measures have been proposed to target microstructural GM organization. Here, we use diffusion heterogeneity- to study GM microstructure in SCZ. Structural and diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) were acquired on a 3 Tesla scanner in 46 patients with SCZ and 37 matched healthy controls (HC). After correction for free water, diffusion heterogeneity as well as commonly used diffusion measures FA and MD and volume were calculated for the four cortical lobes on each hemisphere, and compared between groups. Patients with early course SCZ exhibited higher diffusion heterogeneity in the GM of the frontal lobes compared to controls. Diffusion heterogeneity of the frontal lobe showed excellent discrimination between patients and HC, while none of the commonly used diffusion measures such as FA or MD did. Higher diffusion heterogeneity in the frontal lobes in early SCZ may be due to abnormal brain maturation (migration, pruning) before and during adolescence and early adulthood. Further studies are needed to investigate the role of heterogeneity as potential biomarker for SCZ risk.
Keywords: Diffusion MRI; Gray matter; Heterogeneity; Neurodevelopment; Schizophrenia.