Aberrant frontal lobe "U"-shaped association fibers in first-episode schizophrenia: A 7-Tesla Diffusion Imaging Study

Neuroimage Clin. 2023 Mar 5;38:103367. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2023.103367. Online ahead of print.


Schizophrenia is believed to be a developmental disorder with one hypothesis suggesting that symptoms arise due to abnormal interactions (or disconnectivity) between different brain regions. While some major deep white matter pathways have been extensively studied (e.g. arcuate fasciculus), studies of short-ranged, "U"-shaped tracts have been limited in patients with schizophrenia, in part due to the sheer abundance of tracts present and due to the spatial variations across individuals that defy probabilistic characterization in the absence of reliable templates. In this study, we use diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (dMRI) to investigate frontal lobe superficial white matter that are present in the majority of study participants, comparing healthy controls and minimally treated patients with first-episode schizophrenia (<3 median days of lifetime treatment). Through group comparisons, 3 out of 63 frontal lobe "U"-shaped tracts were found to demonstrate localized aberrations affecting the microstructural tissue properties (via diffusion tensor metrics) in this early stage of disease. No associations were found in patients between aberrant segments of affected tracts and clinical or cognitive variables. Aberrations in the frontal lobe "U"-shaped tracts in early untreated stages of psychosis occur irrespective of symptom burden, and are distributed across critical functional networks associated with executive function and salience processing. While we limited the investigation to the frontal lobe, a framework has been developed to study such connections in other brain regions, enabling further extensive investigations jointly with the major deep white matter pathways.

Keywords: Diffusion MRI; First-episode schizophrenia; Psychosis; Tractography; “U”-fibres.