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Schizophr Res. 2008 Sep;104(1-3):44-60. doi: 10.1016/j.schres.2008.06.023. Epub 2008 Aug 13.

Structural brain alterations at different stages of schizophrenia: a voxel-based morphometric study.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Nussbaumstr. 7, 80336 Munich, Germany.


Structural alterations in schizophrenia have mainly been regarded as the result of neurodevelopmental processes. However, it remains unresolved whether the pattern of morphological brain changes differs between different stages of disease. We examined structural brain changes in 93 first-episode (FES) and 72 recurrently ill (REZ) patients with schizophrenia (SZ) and 175 matched healthy control subjects (HC) using cross-sectional and conjunctional voxel-based morphometry (VBM) of whole-brain MRI data in a three-step approach. We found significant grey matter density (GMD) reductions in FES compared to HC bilaterally in the temporal and prefrontal areas, including the anterior cingulate gyrus, as well as in both thalami. Hippocampus and amygdala were affected on the left side (P<0.05, corrected). In REZ patients this pattern was spatially extended. The basal ganglia were exclusively reduced in the recurrently ill group compared to controls. Common to both disease groups were reductions in the bilateral perisylvian regions, the opercular region, the insula, prefrontal cortex, left inferior temporal gyrus, limbic system including hippocampus and amygdala, and the thalami. In FES patients there were no regions affected that were not also affected in REZ patients. In contrast, REZ patients showed extended alterations within the frontal and temporal regions, the hippocampus, amygdala and exclusively in the basal ganglia relative to the FES patients. Our findings suggest a system-specific involvement of neuronal networks in schizophrenia. Furthermore, our data suggest that in the advanced stages of schizophrenia additional cortical and subcortical brain areas become involved in the disease process. Longitudinal data will be required to further test this hypothesis.

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