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Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2013 Nov;263 Suppl 2:S155-68. doi: 10.1007/s00406-013-0451-y. Epub 2013 Oct 2.

Effects of cannabis and familial loading on subcortical brain volumes in first-episode schizophrenia.

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Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Ludwig-Maximilians-University (LMU) Munich, Nußbaumstraße 7, 80336, Munich, Germany,


Schizophrenia is a severe neuropsychiatric disorder with familial loading as heritable risk factor and cannabis abuse as the most relevant environmental risk factor up to date. Cannabis abuse has been related to an earlier onset of the disease and persisting cannabis consumption is associated with reduced symptom improvement. However, the underlying morphological and biochemical brain alterations due to these risk factors as well as the effects of gene-environmental interaction are still unclear. In this magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study in 47 first-episode schizophrenia patients and 30 healthy control subjects, we investigated effects of previous cannabis abuse and increased familial risk on subcortical brain regions such as hippocampus, amygdala, caudate nucleus, putamen, thalamus and subsegments of the corpus callosum (CC). In a subsequent single-volume (1)H-magnetic resonance spectroscopy study, we investigated spectra in the left hippocampus and putamen to detect metabolic alterations. Compared to healthy controls, schizophrenia patients displayed decreased volumes of the left hippocampus, bilateral amygdala and caudate nucleus as well as an increased area of the midsagittal CC1 segment of the corpus callosum. Patients fulfilling the criteria for cannabis abuse at admission showed an increased area of the CC2 segment compared to those who did not fulfill the criteria. Patients with a family history of schizophrenia combined with previous cannabis abuse showed lower volumes of the bilateral caudate nucleus compared to all other patients, implicating an interaction between the genetic background and cannabis abuse as environmental factor. Patients with cannabis abuse also had higher ratios of N-acetyl aspartate/choline in the left putamen, suggesting a possible neuroprotective effect in this area. However, antipsychotic medication prior to MRI acquisition and gender effects may have influenced our results. Future longitudinal studies in first-episode patients with quantification of cannabis abuse and assessment of schizophrenia risk genes are warranted.

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