Medial temporal lobe default mode functioning and hippocampal structure as vulnerability indicators for schizophrenia: a MRI study of non-psychotic adolescent first-degree relatives

Seidman LJ, Rosso IM, Thermenos HW, Makris N, Juelich R, Gabrieli JD, Faraone SV, Tsuang MT, Whitfield-Gabrieli S

Schizophr. Res. 2014 Nov;159(2-3):426-34

PMID: 25308834


BACKGROUND: Clues to the etiology and pathophysiology of schizophrenia can be examined in their first-degree relatives because they are genetically related to an ill family member, and have few confounds like medications. Brain abnormalities observed in young relatives are neurobiological indicators of vulnerability to illness. We examined the hypothesis that the hippocampus and parahippocampus are structurally abnormal and are related to default mode network (DMN) function and cognitive abnormalities in relatives of probands.

METHODS: Subjects were 27 non-psychotic, first-degree relatives of individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia, and 48 normal controls, ages 13 to 28, undergoing high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at 1.5 T. After structural scan acquisition a subset of subjects performed 2-back working memory (WM) and 0-back tasks during functional MRI (fMRI) alternating with rest. fMRI data were analyzed using SPM-8. Volumes of total cerebrum, hippocampus, and parahippocampal gyrus were measured using semi-automated morphometry.

RESULTS: Compared to controls, relatives had significantly smaller left hippocampi, without volumetric reduction in the parahippocampus. Relatives showed significantly less suppression of DMN activity in the left parahippocampal gyrus. Left hippocampal and posterior parahippocampal volumes were inversely and significantly associated with DMN processing (smaller volumes, less suppression) in relatives. Task suppression in parahippocampal gyrus significantly correlated with WM performance within the relatives.

CONCLUSION: Results support the hypothesis that the vulnerability to schizophrenia includes smaller hippocampi and DMN suppression deficits, and these are associated with poorer WM. Findings suggest a primary structural, neurodevelopmental, medial temporal lobe abnormality associated with altered DMN function independent of psychosis.