Cerebellar volume and cerebellocerebral structural covariance in schizophrenia: A multisite mega-analysis of 983 patients and 1349 healthy controls

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Molecular Psychiatry





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Although cerebellar involvement across a wide range of cognitive and neuropsychiatric phenotypes is increasingly being recognized, previous large-scale studies in schizophrenia (SZ) have primarily focused on supratentorial structures. Hence, the across-sample reproducibility, regional distribution, associations with cerebrocortical morphology and effect sizes of cerebellar relative to cerebral morphological differences in SZ are unknown. We addressed these questions in 983 patients with SZ spectrum disorders and 1349 healthy controls (HCs) from 14 international samples, using state-of-the-art image analysis pipelines optimized for both the cerebellum and the cerebrum. Results showed that total cerebellar grey matter volume was robustly reduced in SZ relative to HCs (Cohens's d= - 0.35), with the strongest effects in cerebellar regions showing functional connectivity with frontoparietal cortices (d=-0.40). Effect sizes for cerebellar volumes were similar to the most consistently reported cerebral structural changes in SZ (e.g., hippocampus volume and frontotemporal cortical thickness), and were highly consistent across samples. Within groups, we further observed positive correlations between cerebellar volume and cerebral cortical thickness in frontotemporal regions (i.e., overlapping with areas that also showed reductions in SZ). This cerebellocerebral structural covariance was strongest in SZ, suggesting common underlying disease processes jointly affecting the cerebellum and the cerebrum. Finally, cerebellar volume reduction in SZ was highly consistent across the included age span (16-66 years) and present already in the youngest patients, a finding that is more consistent with neurodevelopmental than neurodegenerative etiology. Taken together, these novel findings establish the cerebellum as a key node in the distributed brain networks underlying SZ.