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Biol Psychiatry. 2013 Sep 15;74(6):451-7. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.03.003. Epub 2013 Apr 6.

Myelin and axon abnormalities in schizophrenia measured with magnetic resonance imaging techniques.

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McLean Hospital, Belmont, MA 02478, USA.



In schizophrenia (SZ), disturbances in integration of activity among brain regions seem to be as important as abnormal activity of any single region. Brain regions are connected through white matter (WM) tracts, and diffusion tensor imaging has provided compelling evidence for WM abnormalities in SZ. However, diffusion tensor imaging alone cannot currently pinpoint the biological basis of these abnormalities.


In this study, we combined a myelin-specific and an axon-specific magnetic resonance imaging approach to examine potentially distinct abnormalities of WM components in SZ. Magnetization transfer ratio (MTR) provides information on myelin content, whereas diffusion tensor spectroscopy provides information on metabolite diffusion within axons. We collected data from a 1 × 3 × 3 cm voxel within the right prefrontal cortex WM at 4 Tesla and studied 23 patients with SZ and 22 age- and sex-matched healthy control participants.


The MTR was significantly reduced in SZ, suggesting reduced myelin content. By contrast, the apparent diffusion coefficient of N-acetylaspartate (NAA) was significantly elevated, suggesting intra-axonal abnormalities. Greater abnormality of both MTR and the apparent diffusion coefficient of NAA correlated with more adverse outcomes in the patient group.


The results suggest that WM abnormalities in SZ include both abnormal myelination and abnormal NAA diffusion within axons. These processes might be associated with abnormal signal transduction and abnormal information processing in SZ.


Diffusion; N-acetylaspartate; frontal lobe; magnetic resonance spectroscopy; magnetization transfer ratio; white matter

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