Brain structural correlates of schizotypal signs and subclinical schizophrenia nuclear symptoms in healthy individuals

Psychol Med. 2020 Jun 24;1-10. doi: 10.1017/S0033291720002044. Online ahead of print.


Background: Subclinical psychotic-like experiences (PLE), resembling key symptoms of psychotic disorders, are common throughout the general population and possibly associated with psychosis risk. There is evidence that such symptoms are also associated with structural brain changes.

Methods: In 672 healthy individuals, we assessed PLE and associated distress with the symptom-checklist-90R (SCL-90R) scales 'schizotypal signs' (STS) and 'schizophrenia nuclear symptoms' (SNS) and analysed associations with voxel- and surfaced-based brain structural parameters derived from structural magnetic resonance imaging at 3 T with CAT12.

Results: For SNS, we found a positive correlation with the volume in the left superior parietal lobule and the precuneus, and a negative correlation with the volume in the right inferior temporal gyrus [p < 0.05 cluster-level Family Wise Error (FWE-corrected]. For STS, we found a negative correlation with the volume of the left and right precentral gyrus (p < 0.05 cluster-level FWE-corrected). Surface-based analyses did not detect any significant clusters with the chosen statistical threshold of p < 0.05. However, in exploratory analyses (p < 0.001, uncorrected), we found a positive correlation of SNS with gyrification in the left insula and rostral middle frontal gyrus and of STS with the left precuneus and insula, as well as a negative correlation of STS with gyrification in the left temporal pole.

Conclusions: Our results show that brain structures in areas implicated in schizophrenia are also related to PLE and its associated distress in healthy individuals. This pattern supports a dimensional model of the neural correlates of symptoms of the psychotic spectrum.

Keywords: Brain structure; SCL-90R; morphometry; psychotic-like experiences; schizotypy; surface-based morphometry; voxel-based morphometry.