BACKGROUND: Previous studies suggest that dysfunction of cortico-striato-pallido-thalamic (CSPT) circuitry may be involved in the pathophysiology of schizophrenia but also show that basal ganglia structure is highly plastic and may be influenced by antipsychotic treatments. Controversy remains about whether basal ganglia pathology can be detected in vivo among treatment-naïve patients. We conducted a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study to examine basal ganglia structures and the limbic forebrain in first episode schizophrenia and healthy comparison subjects. METHODS: Fifty-one patients with first-episode schizophrenia and 28 healthy comparison subjects participated in the study. A high-resolution, special contrast (white matter nulling) MRI sequence was used to measure the caudate nucleus, nucleus accumbens, putamen, and subcommissural limbic forebrain. RESULTS: Volumes of the basal ganglia regions of interest (adjusted for total brain volume and age) did not differ significantly between the groups. Age correlated significantly with caudate and putamen volumes bilaterally in the healthy comparison group, but not among patients. CONCLUSIONS: The findings suggest that there are no volumetric abnormalities in basal ganglia before treatment in first-episode schizophrenia. The lack of a negative correlation between age and striatal volume among patients may implicate illness-associated factors that alter normal age-related changes in basal ganglia size.
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