Adolescent-onset schizophrenia (AOS) is associated with cognitive impairment and poor clinical outcome. Cognitive dysfunction is hypothesised, in part, to reflect functional dysconnectivity between the frontal cortex and the striatum, although structural abnormalities consistent with this hypothesis have not yet been demonstrated in adolescence.
To characterise frontostriatal white matter (WM) tracts in relation to cognition in AOS.
A MRI volumetric and diffusion tensor imaging study.
Thirty-seven AOS subjects and 24 age and sex-matched healthy subjects.
Using probabilistic tractography, cortical regions with the highest connection probability for each striatal voxel were determined, and correlated with IQ and specific cognitive functions after co-varying for age and sex. Fractional anisotropy (FA) from individual tracts was a secondary measure.
Bayesian Structural Equation modeling of FA from 12 frontostriatal tracts showed processing speed to be an intermediary variable for cognition. AOS patients demonstrated generalised cognitive impairment with specific deficits in verbal learning and memory and in processing speed after correction for IQ. Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex connectivity with the striatum correlated positively with these measures and with IQ. DTI voxel-wise comparisons showed lower connectivity between striatum and the motor and lateral orbitofrontal cortices bilaterally, the left amygdalohippocampal complex, right anterior cingulate cortex, left medial orbitofrontal cortex and right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.
Frontostriatal dysconnectivity in large WM tracts that can explain core cognitive deficits are evident during adolescence. Processing speed, which is affected by alterations in WM connectivity, appears an intermediary variable in the cognitive deficits seen in schizophrenia.