Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
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Introduction: Symptoms of schizophrenia are closely related to aberrant language comprehension and production. Macroscopic brain changes seen in some patients with schizophrenia are suspected to relate to impaired language production, but this is yet to be reliably characterized. Since heterogeneity in language dysfunctions, as well as brain structure, is suspected in schizophrenia, we aimed to first seek patient subgroups with different neurobiological signatures and then quantify linguistic indices that capture the symptoms of “negative formal thought disorder” (i.e., fluency, cohesion, and complexity of language production). Methods: Atlas-based cortical thickness values (obtained with a 7T MRI scanner) of 66 patients with first-episode psychosis and 36 healthy controls were analyzed with hierarchical clustering algorithms to produce neuroanatomical subtypes. We then examined the generated subtypes and investigated the quantitative differences in MRS-based glutamate levels [in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC)] as well as in three aspects of language production features: fluency, syntactic complexity, and lexical cohesion. Results: Two neuroanatomical subtypes among patients were observed, one with near-normal cortical thickness patterns while the other with widespread cortical thinning. Compared to the subgroup of patients with relatively normal cortical thickness patterns, the subgroup with widespread cortical thinning was older, with higher glutamate concentration in dACC and produced speech with reduced mean length of T-units (complexity) and lower repeats of content words (lexical cohesion), despite being equally fluent (number of words). Conclusion: We characterized a patient subgroup with thinner cortex in first-episode psychosis. This subgroup, identifiable through macroscopic changes, is also distinguishable in terms of neurochemistry (frontal glutamate) and language behavior (complexity and cohesion of speech). This study supports the hypothesis that glutamate-mediated cortical thinning may contribute to a phenotype that is detectable using the tools of computational linguistics in schizophrenia.