June 23, 2020

A connection to schizophrenia

The insula, a small region of the brain involved in diverse brain functions had widespread dysconnectivity in schizophrenia, Vanderbilt researchers found.

The insula, Latin for island, is a small region of the cerebral cortex involved in diverse brain functions including cognition, self-awareness and emotion. Schizophrenia is associated with structural abnormalities of the insula, but less is known about how those abnormalities may affect functional connectivity of insula subregions. 

Julia Sheffield, PhD, and colleagues conducted a functional neuroimaging study in 191 people with schizophrenia and 196 healthy controls. They found widespread insula dysconnectivity in schizophrenia characterized by both increased and decreased connectivity of all three insula subregions, driven by reduced subregional differentiation. 

These findings are among the first to investigate insula subregion connectivity in schizophrenia, demonstrating relationships with cognitive deficits and negative symptoms, the researchers reported in the journal Schizophrenia Research. 

Because insula connectivity is refined throughout childhood and adolescence, it may be particularly vulnerable to environmental stressors associated with the onset of schizophrenia. Further research into insula function is warranted to better understand the genesis of this devastating brain disease, they concluded.

This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (grants MH102266, MH070560), the Charlotte and Donald Test Fund, the Jack Martin, MD Research Professorship in Psychopharmacology, the Vanderbilt Psychiatric Genotype/Phenotype Project, and the Vanderbilt Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (NIH grant TR000445).