Distinct Volume Alterations of Thalamic Nuclei Across the Schizophrenia Spectrum

Distinct Volume Alterations of Thalamic Nuclei Across the Schizophrenia Spectrum

Melissa Thalhammer, … Stefan Borgwardt,Mihai Avram,…

DOI: doi.org/10.1093/schbul/sbae037

Background and Hypothesis

Abnormal thalamic nuclei volumes and their link to cognitive impairments have been observed in schizophrenia. However, whether and how this finding extends to the schizophrenia spectrum is unknown. We hypothesized a distinct pattern of aberrant thalamic nuclei volume across the spectrum and examined its potential associations with cognitive symptoms.

Study Design

We performed a FreeSurfer-based volumetry of T1-weighted brain MRIs from 137 healthy controls, 66 at-risk mental state (ARMS) subjects, 89 first-episode psychosis (FEP) individuals, and 126 patients with schizophrenia to estimate thalamic nuclei volumes of six nuclei groups (anterior, lateral, ventral, intralaminar, medial, and pulvinar). We used linear regression models, controlling for sex, age, and estimated total intracranial volume, both to compare thalamic nuclei volumes across groups and to investigate their associations with positive, negative, and cognitive symptoms.

Study Results

We observed significant volume alterations in medial and lateral thalamic nuclei. Medial nuclei displayed consistently reduced volumes across the spectrum compared to controls, while lower lateral nuclei volumes were only observed in schizophrenia. Whereas positive and negative symptoms were not associated with reduced nuclei volumes across all groups, higher cognitive scores were linked to lower volumes of medial nuclei in ARMS. In FEP, cognition was not linked to nuclei volumes. In schizophrenia, lower cognitive performance was associated with lower medial volumes.


Results demonstrate distinct thalamic nuclei volume reductions across the schizophrenia spectrum, with lower medial nuclei volumes linked to cognitive deficits in ARMS and schizophrenia. Data suggest a distinctive trajectory of thalamic nuclei abnormalities along the course of schizophrenia.

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