Schizophrenia Research Forum - A Catalyst for Creative Thinking


Van Haren NE, Schnack HG, Cahn W, van den Heuvel MP, Lepage C, Collins L, Evans AC, Hulshoff Pol HE, Kahn RS. Changes in cortical thickness during the course of illness in schizophrenia. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2011 Sep ; 68(9):871-80. Pubmed Abstract

Comments on News and Primary Papers


Primary Papers: Changes in cortical thickness during the course of illness in schizophrenia.

Comment by:  Karoly Mirnics, SRF Advisor
Submitted 16 September 2011
Posted 16 September 2011
  I recommend this paper

I am still struggling with the concept of cortical thinning in patients over time. I think this and previous studies have clearly demonstrated that there is a progressive cortical thinning in schizophrenia, which is also associated with poor clinical outcome. The higher cumulative intake of typical antipsychotics during the scan interval was associated with more pronounced cortical thinning in the current study, but this can be interpreted in multiple ways. Anyhow, I still have an unresolved issue in my mind: if cortical thinning is bad and impairs brain function, why is this progressive thinning not associated with much more pronounced clinical deterioration over the lifetime? Any comments?

View all comments by Karoly MirnicsComment by:  Cynthia Shannon Weickert, SRF Advisor
Submitted 4 January 2012
Posted 4 January 2012

Plump Enough
Thanks for your thought-provoking review of structural MRI changes in schizophrenia. I had a couple of quick comments.

You make the statement that, "Though cortical thickness itself is below the resolution of typical MRI, image analysis algorithms can now infer thickness across the entire cortical sheet as it winds its way throughout the brain." I thought sMRI gathers information for about 2 mm cubed or so. So maybe the point to make is that cortex thickness is not below the resolution, but the putative change in thickness is below the resolution. It would be interesting to know if the putative change in cortical thickness in schizophrenia could be better viewed with 3T or 7T scanners.

Also, I wonder how to interpret decreases in volume over five years that seem to be as much as 5 percent in some areas. How long could this continue to be progressive at this rate, and what would be the final cortical volume expected in the final decade of life? For example, if the DLPFC BA46 is about 3,500 microns thick, then a 5 percent loss/five years over 20 years would leave you with about 2,850 microns, and that would be about a 20 percent decrease in thickness. While postmortem studies may be limited, as Karoly points out, certainly we know that the frontal cortex is still "plump enough" to define cyto-architecturally, and to examine at the histological level. We also consider that there is about a 10 percent loss in cortical thickness in people with schizophrenia. Certainly, the cortex does not degenerate completely as would be expected with relentless progression of loss and accumulated deterioration of cortical grey matter over time.

Thus, this is an interesting issue, but many questions remain. Is there a lot of case-to-case variability that underlies these averages such that some cases lose more cortical volume and some do not lose any at all? Could it be that, while there is cortical volume loss, there are some patients in whom this loss slows or even reverses naturally over the course of the disease? What is the physical substrate of such cortical volume loss in people with schizophrenia? Can we prevent cortical volume loss over time, and would this be beneficial to patient outcomes?

View all comments by Cynthia Shannon Weickert