Structural covariance and cortical reorganisation in schizophrenia: A MRI-based morphometric study

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Psychological Medicine





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Background In patients with schizophrenia, distributed abnormalities are observed in grey matter volume. A recent hypothesis posits that these distributed changes are indicative of a plastic reorganisation process occurring in response to a functional defect in neuronal information transmission. We investigated the structural covariance across various brain regions in early-stage schizophrenia to determine if indeed the observed patterns of volumetric loss conform to a coordinated pattern of structural reorganisation.Methods Structural magnetic resonance imaging scans were obtained from 40 healthy adults and 41 age, gender and parental socioeconomic status matched patients with schizophrenia. Volumes of grey matter tissue were estimated at the regional level across 90 atlas-based parcellations. Group-level structural covariance was studied using a graph theoretical framework.Results Patients had distributed reduction in grey matter volume, with high degree of localised covariance (clustering) compared with controls. Patients with schizophrenia had reduced centrality of anterior cingulate and insula but increased centrality of the fusiform cortex, compared with controls. Simulating targeted removal of highly central nodes resulted in significant loss of the overall covariance patterns in patients compared with controls.Conclusion Regional volumetric deficits in schizophrenia are not a result of random, mutually independent processes. Our observations support the occurrence of a spatially interconnected reorganisation with the systematic de-escalation of conventional 'hub' regions. This raises the question of whether the morphological architecture in schizophrenia is primed for compensatory functions, albeit with a high risk of inefficiency.