Deviations in early hippocampus development contribute to visual hallucinations in schizophrenia

Transl Psychiatry. 2020 Mar 25;10(1):102. doi: 10.1038/s41398-020-0779-9.


Auditory hallucinations (AHs) are certainly the most emblematic experiences in schizophrenia, but visual hallucinations (VHs) are also commonly observed in this developmental psychiatric disorder. Notably, several studies have suggested a possible relationship between the clinical variability in hallucinations' phenomenology and differences in brain development/maturation. In schizophrenia, impairments of the hippocampus, a medial temporal structure involved in mnesic and neuroplastic processes, have been repeatedly associated with hallucinations, particularly in the visual modality. However, the possible neurodevelopmental origin of hippocampal impairments in VHs has never been directly investigated. A classic marker of early atypical hippocampal development is incomplete hippocampal inversion (IHI). In this study, we compared IHI patterns in healthy volunteers, and two subgroups of carefully selected schizophrenia patients experiencing frequent hallucinations: (a) those with pure AHs and (b) those with audio-visual hallucinations (A+VH). We found that VHs were associated with a specific IHI pattern. Schizophrenia patients with A+VH exhibited flatter left hippocampi than patients with pure AHs or healthy controls. This result first confirms that the greater clinical impairment observed in A+VH patients may relate to an increased neurodevelopmental weight in this subpopulation. More importantly, these findings bring crucial hints to better specify the sensitivity period of A+VH-related IHI during early brain development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Hallucinations
  • Hippocampus
  • Humans
  • Schizophrenia* / complications
  • Temporal Lobe