Thalamic and striato-pallidal volumes in schizophrenia patients and individuals at risk for psychosis: A multi-atlas segmentation study

Schizophr Res. 2020 May 21;S0920-9964(20)30223-1. doi: 10.1016/j.schres.2020.04.016. Online ahead of print.


Despite previous neuroimaging studies demonstrating morphological abnormalities of the thalamus and other subcortical structures in patients with schizophrenia, the potential role of the thalamus and its subdivisions in the pathophysiology of this illness remains elusive. It is also unclear whether similar changes of these structures occur in individuals at high risk for psychosis. In this study, magnetic resonance imaging was employed with the Multiple Automatically Generated Templates (MAGeT) brain segmentation algorithm to determine volumes of the thalamic subdivisions, the striatum (caudate, putamen, and nucleus accumbens), and the globus pallidus in 62 patients with schizophrenia, 38 individuals with an at-risk mental state (ARMS) [4 of whom (10.5%) subsequently developed schizophrenia], and 61 healthy subjects. Cognitive function of the patients was assessed by using the Brief Assessment of Cognition in Schizophrenia (BACS) and the Schizophrenia Cognition Rating Scale (SCoRS). Thalamic volume (particularly the medial dorsal and ventral lateral nuclei) was smaller in the schizophrenia group than the ARMS and control groups, while there were no differences for the striatum and globus pallidus. In the schizophrenia group, the reduction of thalamic ventral lateral nucleus volume was significantly associated with lower BACS score. The pallidal volume was positively correlated with the dose of antipsychotic treatment in the schizophrenia group. These results suggest that patients with schizophrenia, but not those with ARMS, exhibit volume reduction in specific thalamic subdivisions, which may underlie core clinical features of this illness.

Keywords: At-risk mental state; Magnetic resonance imaging; Medial dorsal nucleus; Schizophrenia; Thalamus; Ventral lateral nucleus.