Context Whether cortical thickness changes in schizophrenia over time are more pronounced relative to the changes that can be attributed to normal aging has not been studied.
Objective To compare patients with schizophrenia and healthy control participants on cortical thickness change.
Design A 5-year longitudinal study comparing schizophrenic patients and healthy controls using 2 magnetic resonance images of the brain.
Setting Patients were recruited from the Department of Psychiatry at the University Medical Centre Utrecht and from other psychiatric hospitals in the Netherlands. Healthy controls were recruited via advertisement in newspapers and notice boards.
Participants Ninety-six schizophrenic patients and 113 healthy controls aged 16 to 56 years.
Main Outcome Measures Cortical thickness and change in cortical thickness on a vertex-by-vertex basis across the cortical mantle, measures of functional and symptomatic outcome, and cumulative intake of antipsychotics during the scan interval.
Results At baseline, the schizophrenic patients had thinner left orbitofrontal and right parahippocampal and superior temporal cortices and a thicker superior parietal lobule and occipital pole compared with the controls. Mean cortical thickness did not differ between the groups. Over time, excessive cortical thinning was found in widespread areas on the cortical mantle, most pronounced bilaterally in the temporal cortex and in the left frontal area. Poor outcome in patients was associated with more pronounced cortical thinning. Higher cumulative intake of typical antipsychotics during the scan interval was associated with more pronounced cortical thinning, whereas higher cumulative intake of atypical antipsychotic medication was associated with less pronounced cortical thinning.
Conclusions In schizophrenia, the cortex shows excessive thinning over time in widespread areas of the brain, most pronounced in the frontal and temporal areas, and progresses across the entire course of the illness. The excessive thinning of the cortex appears related to outcome and medication intake.