Pons-to-Cerebellum Hypoconnectivity Along the Psychosis Spectrum and Associations With Sensory Prediction and Hallucinations in Schizophrenia

Biol Psychiatry Cogn Neurosci Neuroimaging. 2024 Jul;9(7):693-702. doi: 10.1016/j.bpsc.2024.01.010. Epub 2024 Feb 2.


Background: Sensory prediction allows the brain to anticipate and parse incoming self-generated sensory information from externally generated signals. Sensory prediction breakdowns may contribute to perceptual and agency abnormalities in psychosis (hallucinations, delusions). The pons, a central node in a cortico-ponto-cerebellar-thalamo-cortical circuit, is thought to support sensory prediction. Examination of pons connectivity in schizophrenia and its role in sensory prediction abnormalities is lacking.

Methods: We examined these relationships using resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging and the electroencephalography-based auditory N1 event-related potential in 143 participants with psychotic spectrum disorders (PSPs) (with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or bipolar disorder); 63 first-degree relatives of individuals with psychosis; 45 people at clinical high risk for psychosis; and 124 unaffected comparison participants. This unique sample allowed examination across the psychosis spectrum and illness trajectory. Seeding from the pons, we extracted average connectivity values from thalamic and cerebellar clusters showing differences between PSPs and unaffected comparison participants. We predicted N1 amplitude attenuation during a vocalization task from pons connectivity and group membership. We correlated participant-level connectivity in PSPs and people at clinical high risk for psychosis with hallucination and delusion severity.

Results: Compared to unaffected comparison participants, PSPs showed pons hypoconnectivity to 2 cerebellar clusters, and first-degree relatives of individuals with psychosis showed hypoconnectivity to 1 of these clusters. Pons-to-cerebellum connectivity was positively correlated with N1 attenuation; only PSPs with heightened pons-to-postcentral gyrus connectivity showed this pattern, suggesting a possible compensatory mechanism. Pons-to-cerebellum hypoconnectivity was correlated with greater hallucination severity specifically among PSPs with schizophrenia.

Conclusions: Deficient pons-to-cerebellum connectivity linked sensory prediction network breakdowns with perceptual abnormalities in schizophrenia. Findings highlight shared features and clinical heterogeneity across the psychosis spectrum.

Keywords: Cerebellum; EEG; N1; Resting-state fMRI; Schizophrenia spectrum.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cerebellum* / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebellum* / physiopathology
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Female
  • Hallucinations* / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology
  • Pons* / physiopathology
  • Psychotic Disorders* / complications
  • Psychotic Disorders* / diagnostic imaging
  • Psychotic Disorders* / physiopathology
  • Schizophrenia* / complications
  • Schizophrenia* / physiopathology
  • Young Adult