Psychopathological Syndromes Across Affective and Psychotic Disorders Correlate With Gray Matter Volumes

Schizophr Bull. 2021 Oct 21;47(6):1740-1750. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbab037.


Introduction: More than a century of research on the neurobiological underpinnings of major psychiatric disorders (major depressive disorder [MDD], bipolar disorder [BD], schizophrenia [SZ], and schizoaffective disorder [SZA]) has been unable to identify diagnostic markers. An alternative approach is to study dimensional psychopathological syndromes that cut across categorical diagnoses. The aim of the current study was to identify gray matter volume (GMV) correlates of transdiagnostic symptom dimensions.

Methods: We tested the association of 5 psychopathological factors with GMV using multiple regression models in a sample of N = 1069 patients meeting Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) criteria for MDD (n = 818), BD (n = 132), and SZ/SZA (n = 119). T1-weighted brain images were acquired with 3-Tesla magnetic resonance imaging and preprocessed with CAT12. Interactions analyses (diagnosis × psychopathological factor) were performed to test whether local GMV associations were driven by DSM-IV diagnosis. We further tested syndrome specific regions of interest (ROIs).

Results: Whole brain analysis showed a significant negative association of the positive formal thought disorder factor with GMV in the right middle frontal gyrus, the paranoid-hallucinatory syndrome in the right fusiform, and the left middle frontal gyri. ROI analyses further showed additional negative associations, including the negative syndrome with bilateral frontal opercula, positive formal thought disorder with the left amygdala-hippocampus complex, and the paranoid-hallucinatory syndrome with the left angular gyrus. None of the GMV associations interacted with DSM-IV diagnosis.

Conclusions: We found associations between psychopathological syndromes and regional GMV independent of diagnosis. Our findings open a new avenue for neurobiological research across disorders, using syndrome-based approaches rather than categorical diagnoses.

Keywords: dimensional; major psychiatric disorders; transdiagnostic; voxel-based morphometry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bipolar Disorder* / diagnostic imaging
  • Bipolar Disorder* / pathology
  • Bipolar Disorder* / physiopathology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / diagnostic imaging
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / pathology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Gray Matter / diagnostic imaging
  • Gray Matter / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Psychotic Disorders* / diagnostic imaging
  • Psychotic Disorders* / pathology
  • Psychotic Disorders* / physiopathology
  • Schizophrenia* / diagnostic imaging
  • Schizophrenia* / pathology
  • Schizophrenia* / physiopathology
  • Syndrome