Objective: Cortical thickness reductions in schizophrenia are irregularly distributed across multiple loci. The authors hypothesized that cortical connectivity networks would explain the distribution of cortical thickness reductions across the cortex, and, specifically, that cortico-cortical connectivity between loci with these reductions would be exceptionally strong and form an interconnected network. This hypothesis was tested in three cross-sectional schizophrenia cohorts: first-episode psychosis, chronic schizophrenia, and treatment-resistant schizophrenia.
Methods: Structural brain images were acquired for 70 patients with first-episode psychosis, 153 patients with chronic schizophrenia, and 47 patients with treatment-resistant schizophrenia and in matching healthy control groups (N=57, N=168, and N=54, respectively). Cortical thickness was compared between the patient and respective control groups at 148 regions spanning the cortex. Structural connectivity strength between pairs of cortical regions was quantified with structural covariance analysis. Connectivity strength between regions with cortical thickness reductions was compared with connectivity strength between 5,000 sets of randomly chosen regions to establish whether regions with reductions were interconnected more strongly than would be expected by chance.
Results: Significant (false discovery rate corrected) and widespread cortical thickness reductions were found in the chronic schizophrenia (79 regions) and treatment-resistant schizophrenia (106 regions) groups, with more circumscribed reductions in the first-episode psychosis group (34 regions). Cortical thickness reductions with the largest effect sizes were found in frontal, temporal, cingulate, and insular regions. In all cohorts, both the patient and healthy control groups showed significantly increased structural covariance between regions with cortical thickness reductions compared with randomly selected regions.
Conclusions: Brain network architecture can explain the irregular topographic distribution of cortical thickness reductions in schizophrenia. This finding, replicated in three distinct schizophrenia cohorts, suggests that the effect is robust and independent of illness stage.
Keywords: Brain Connectivity; Cortical Thickness; Network; Schizophrenia; Structural Covariance; Structural Neuroimaging.