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Deficits in Small Interneurons in Prefrontal and Cingulate Cortices of Schizophrenic and Schizoaffective Patients

Francine M. Benes, MD, PhD; Jennifer McSparren; Edward D. Bird, MD; John Paul SanGiovanni; Stephen L. Vincent, PhD
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1991;48(11):996-1001. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1991.01810350036005.
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• A recent report suggested that neurons in the prefrontal, anterior cingulate, and primary motor cortex of the brains of schizophrenic subjects may be less dense than those in the brains of nonschizophrenic subjects. We have determined whether pyramidal neurons and/or interneurons are preferentially reduced in schizophrenic subjects. Twelve control subjects and 18 schizophrenic subjects were studied in a blind, quantitative analysis of the density of pyramidal cells, interneurons, and glial cells in each of the six layers of the anterior cingulate and prefrontal cortex. The results showed that numbers of small neurons (interneurons) were reduced in most layers of the cingulate cortex in schizophrenic subjects compared with nonschizophrenic subjects, with the differences being greatest in layer II. In the prefrontal area, interneuronal density was also lower in layer II and, to a lesser extent, in layer I in schizophrenic subjects compared with control subjects. In most cases, the differences were similar, although more significant, in schizophrenic subjects who had had superimposed mood disturbances than in schizophrenic subjects who had not had such comorbidity. Numbers of pyramidal neurons generally were not different between control and schizophrenic subjects, except in layer V of the prefrontal area, where schizophrenic subjects showed higher densities of these neurons. Glial numbers did not differ between the control and schizophrenic subjects, suggesting that a neurodegenerative process did not cause the reduced interneuronal density observed. Using multiple regression analysis and analysis of covariance, decreases in the density of layer II interneurons could not be adequately explained by the effects of various confounding variables, such as age, postmortem interval, duration of specimen fixation, or administration of neuroleptic agents. Two younger patients who had not received neuroleptic agents also had reduced numbers of small neurons, suggesting that reduction in numbers of small neurons is not due to the effects of antipsychotic medication. Reductions of interneurons, possibly ones that are inhibitory in nature, may occur within intrinsic cortical circuits, and may be an important aspect of the pathophysiology of schizophrenia.


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