Cortical thickness and formal thought disorder in schizophrenia: An ultra high-field network-based morphometry study

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Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry



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Background: Persistent formal thought disorder (FTD) is a core feature of schizophrenia. Recent cognitive and neuroimaging studies indicate a distinct mechanistic pathway underlying the persistent positive FTD (pFTD or disorganized thinking), though its structural determinants are still elusive. Using network-based cortical thickness estimates from ultra-high field 7-Tesla Magnetic Resonance Imaging (7T MRI), we investigated the structural correlates of pFTD. Methods: We obtained speech samples and 7T MRI anatomical scans from medicated clinically stable patients with schizophrenia (n = 19) and healthy controls (n = 20). Network-based morphometry was used to estimate the mean cortical thickness of 17 functional networks covering the entire cortical surface from each subject. We also quantified the vertexwise variability of thickness within each network to quantify the spatial coherence of the 17 networks, estimated patients vs. controls differences, and related the thickness of the affected networks to the severity of pFTD. Results: Patients had reduced thickness of the frontoparietal and default mode networks, and reduced spatial coherence affecting the salience and the frontoparietal control network. A higher burden of positive FTD related to reduced frontoparietal thickness and reduced spatial coherence of the salience network. The presence of positive FTD, but not its severity, related to the reduced thickness of the language network comprising of the superior temporal cortex. Conclusions: These results suggest that cortical thickness of both cognitive control and language networks underlie the positive FTD in schizophrenia. The structural integrity of cognitive control networks is a critical determinant of the expressed severity of persistent FTD in schizophrenia.