Sex and Diffusion Tensor Imaging of White Matter in Schizophrenia: A Systematic Review Plus Meta-analysis of the Corpus Callosum
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Sex is considered an understudied variable in health research. Schizophrenia is a brain disorder with known sex differences in epidemiology and clinical presentation. We systematically reviewed the literature for sex-based differences of diffusion properties of white matter tracts in schizophrenia. We then conducted a meta-analysis examining sex-based differences in the genu and splenium of the corpus callosum in schizophrenia. Medline and Embase were searched to identify relevant papers. Studies fulfilling the following criteria were included: (1) included individuals with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, (2) included a control group of healthy individuals, (3) included both sexes in the patient and the control groups, (4) used diffusion tensor imaging, and (5) involved analyzing metrics of white matter microstructural integrity. Fractional anisotropy (FA) was used as the measure of interest in the meta-analysis. Of 730 studies reviewed, 75 met the inclusion criteria. Most showed no effect of sex, however, those that did found either that females have lower FA than males, or that the effect of disease in females is larger than that in males. The findings of the meta-analysis in the corpus callosum supported this result. There is a recognized need for studies on schizophrenia with a sufficient sample of female patients. Lack of power undermines the ability to detect sex-based differences. Understanding the sex-specific impact of illness on neural circuits may help inform development of new treatments, and improvement of existing interventions.