Ultrastructural Alterations of Von Economo Neurons in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex in Schizophrenia

Anat Rec (Hoboken). 2017 Nov;300(11):2017-2024. doi: 10.1002/ar.23635. Epub 2017 Jul 17.


Von Economo neurons (VENs) are large bipolar projection neurons mainly located in layer Vb of anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and anterior insula. Both regions are involved in cognitive and emotional procedures and are functionally and anatomically altered in schizophrenia. Although the detailed function of VEN remains unclear, it has been suggested that these neurons are involved in the pathomechanism of schizophrenia. Here, we were interested in the question whether or not the VEN of schizophrenia patients would show abnormalities at the ultrastructural level. Accordingly, we examined the amount of lysosomal aggregations of the VEN in post-mortem tissue of patients with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and psychologically unaffected individuals, and compared the findings with aggregations in adjacent pyramidal cells in layer Vb of the ACC. VEN of patients with schizophrenia, and to a lesser degree individuals with bipolar disorder contained significantly more lysosomal aggregations compared with tissue from unaffected controls. Specifically, the larger amount of lysosomal aggregations in schizophrenia seemed to be selective for VEN, with no differences occurring in pyramidal cells. These findings may indicate that the VEN of schizophrenia patients are selectively vulnerable to neuronal damage. Anat Rec, 2017. © 2017 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Anat Rec, 300:2017-2024, 2017. © 2017 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Keywords: electron microscopy; lysosomal aggregations; neuronal damage; schizophrenia; von Economo neurons.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bipolar Disorder / pathology*
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / cytology
  • Gyrus Cinguli / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Lysosomes / pathology*
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurons / pathology*
  • Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Pyramidal Cells / pathology
  • Schizophrenia / pathology*