Elevated neuronal density in prefrontal area 46 in brains from schizophrenic patients: application of a three-dimensional, stereologic counting method

J Comp Neurol. 1998 Mar 16;392(3):402-12.


Neuropsychologic testing in schizophrenic patients has underscored the prominence of dysfunction in cognitive processes associated with the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Quantitative cytometric analysis of area 46 was undertaken in brains from schizophrenic patients to determine whether there are morphologic changes underlying these cognitive deficits. Postmortem brain specimens from 9 schizophrenic patients, 10 normal subjects, and 8 Huntington's diseased patients were fixed in formalin and celloidin embedded. A direct, three-dimensional counting method was used to determine cell density and cortical thickness in Nissl-stained sections of area 46. Overall neuronal density was 21% greater in brains from schizophrenic patients in comparison to normal controls. Significant elevations in neuronal density were observed in layers II, III, IV, and VI. The cortical ribbon was slightly (8%) but not significantly thinner. However, layer II exhibited disproportionate thinning compared with all other layers. In brains from Huntington's diseased patients, increases in neuronal (35%) and glial (61%) density with substantial cortical thinning (30%) were observed. The neuropathology of area 46 in schizophrenia is similar in direction and magnitude to that previously described in area 9 (Selemon et al. [1995] Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 52:805-818), except for the abnormalities in layer II, which are specific to area 46. In contrast to Huntington's disease, in which cortical atrophy and gliosis are present, no evidence for cortical cell loss was uncovered in the schizophrenic cohort. The observed elevation in neuronal density suggests that a reduction in interneuronal neuropil may constitute the anatomical substrate for prefrontal cortical dysfunction in schizophrenia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Cell Count
  • Cell Death
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Huntington Disease / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurons / pathology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / pathology*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Schizophrenia / pathology*