Apathy is not associated with reduced ventral striatal volume in patients with schizophrenia

Schizophr Res. 2020 Sep;223:279-288. doi: 10.1016/j.schres.2020.08.018. Epub 2020 Sep 11.


Background: A growing body of neuroimaging research has revealed a relationship between blunted activation of the ventral striatum (VS) and apathy in schizophrenia. In contrast, the association between reduced striatal volume and apathy is less well established, while the relationship between VS function and structure in patients with schizophrenia remains an open question. Here, we aimed to replicate previous structural findings in a larger independent sample and to investigate the relationship between VS hypoactivation and VS volume.

Methods: We included brain structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data from 60 patients with schizophrenia (SZ) that had shown an association of VS hypoactivation with apathy during reward anticipation and 58 healthy controls (HC). To improve replicability, we applied analytical methods employed in two previously published studies: Voxel-based morphometry and the Multiple Automatically Generated Templates (MAGeT) algorithm. VS and dorsal striatum (DS) volume were correlated with apathy correcting for age, gender and total brain volume. Additionally, left VS activity was correlated with left VS volume.

Results: We failed to replicate the association between apathy and reduced VS volume and did not find a correlation with DS volume. Functional and structural left VS measures exhibited a trend-level correlation (rs = 0.248, p = 0.067, r2 = 0.06).

Conclusions: Our present data suggests that functional and structural striatal neuroimaging correlates of apathy can occur independently. Replication of previous findings may have been limited by other factors (medication, illness duration, age) potentially related to striatal volume changes in SZ. Finally, associations between reward-related VS function and structure should be further explored.

Keywords: Amotivation; Apathy; Negative symptoms; Schizophrenia; Structural MRI; Ventral striatum.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apathy*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Reward
  • Schizophrenia* / diagnostic imaging
  • Schizophrenic Psychology
  • Ventral Striatum* / diagnostic imaging