January 27, 2022

White matter and psychosis

The microstructure of white matter in the brain could be an important risk marker for psychosis, Vanderbilt researchers have discovered.

Thalamocortical white matter connectivity in the brain is disrupted during psychosis, which can contribute to cognitive impairment, but little is known about its association with cognition during adolescence. 

In a study characterizing the effects of age, sex, psychosis symptomology and cognition in thalamocortical networks in a large sample of 316 typically developing youths, 330 youths on the psychosis spectrum and 498 youths with other psychopathology, Suzanne Avery, PhD, and colleagues sought to quantify connectivity between the thalamus and six cortical regions and assess microstructural properties of thalamocortical white matter tracts.  

The researchers reported in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging that percent total connectivity of the thalamus was weakly associated with age and was not associated with psychopathology or cognition. Fractional anisotropy of thalamocortical tracts increased with age, was higher in males and lowest in youths on the psychosis spectrum.  

This study provides a foundation for using thalamocortical white matter microstructure as a marker of neurodevelopment and an important risk marker for psychosis.

Other authors of the report include Anna Huang, PhD, Julia Sheffield, PhD, Baxter Rogers, PhD, Simon Vandekar, PhD, Alan Anticevic, PhD, and Neil Woodward, PhD. This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (grants MH115000, MH102266, MH123563, TR000445).