BACKGROUND: Schizophrenia is characterized by subcortical and cortical brain abnormalities. Evidence indicates that some nonpsychotic relatives of schizophrenic patients manifest biobehavioral abnormalities, including brain abnormalities. The goal of this study was to determine whether amygdala-hippocampal and thalamic abnormalities are present in relatives of schizophrenic patients. METHODS: Subjects were 28 nonpsychotic, and nonschizotypal, first-degree adult relatives of schizophrenics and 26 normal control subjects. Sixty contiguous 3 mm coronal, T1-weighted 3D magnetic resonance images of the brain were acquired on a 1.5 Tesla magnet. Cortical and subcortical gray and white matter and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) were segmented using a semi-automated intensity contour mapping algorithm. Analyses of covariance of the volumes of brain regions, controlling for expected intellectual (i.e., reading) ability and diagnosis, were used to compare groups. RESULTS: The main findings were that relatives had significant volume reductions bilaterally in the amygdala-hippocampal region and thalamus compared to control subjects. Marginal differences were noted in the pallidum, putamen, cerebellum, and third and fourth ventricles. CONCLUSIONS: Results support the hypothesis that core components of the vulnerability to schizophrenia include structural abnormalities in the thalamus and amygdala-hippocampus. These findings require further work to determine if the abnormalities are an expression of the genetic liability to schizophrenia.
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