Modelling the overlap and divergence of autistic and schizotypal traits on hippocampal subfield volumes and regional cerebral blood flow

Mol Psychiatry. 2024 Jan;29(1):74-84. doi: 10.1038/s41380-023-02302-w. Epub 2023 Oct 27.


Psychiatric disorders show high co-morbidity, including co-morbid expressions of subclinical psychopathology across multiple disease spectra. Given the limitations of classical case-control designs in elucidating this overlap, new approaches are needed to identify biological underpinnings of spectra and their interaction. We assessed autistic-like traits (using the Autism Quotient, AQ) and schizotypy - as models of subclinical expressions of disease phenotypes and examined their association with volumes and regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) of anterior, mid- and posterior hippocampus segments from structural MRI scans in 318 and arterial spin labelling (ASL) in 346 nonclinical subjects, which overlapped with the structural imaging sample (N = 298). We demonstrate significant interactive effects of positive schizotypy and AQ social skills as well as of positive schizotypy and AQ imagination on hippocampal subfield volume variation. Moreover, we show that AQ attention switching modulated hippocampal head rCBF, while positive schizotypy by AQ attention to detail interactions modulated hippocampal tail rCBF. In addition, we show significant correlation of hippocampal volume and rCBF in both region-of-interest and voxel-wise analyses, which were robust after removal of variance related to schizotypy and autistic traits. These findings provide empirical evidence for both the modulation of hippocampal subfield structure and function through subclinical traits, and in particular how only the interaction of phenotype facets leads to significant reductions or variations in these parameters. This makes a case for considering the synergistic impact of different (subclinical) disease spectra on transdiagnostic biological parameters in psychiatry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Autistic Disorder / pathology
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation* / physiology
  • Female
  • Hippocampus* / diagnostic imaging
  • Hippocampus* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder* / diagnostic imaging
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder* / physiopathology
  • Young Adult