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Increased blood-brain barrier permeability of the thalamus and the correlation with symptom severity and brain volume alterations in schizophrenia patients

      Abstract

      Background

      Cumulative evidence of microvascular dysfunction has suggested the blood-brain barrier (BBB) disruption in schizophrenia, while the direct in vivo evidence from patients is inadequate. In this study, using dynamic contrast-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging (DCE-MRI) methods, we tried to test the hypothesis that there was increased BBB permeability in schizophrenia patients, and correlated with the clinical characters, and brain volumetric alterations.

      Methods

      Structural MRI and DCE-MRI data from 29 schizophrenia patients and 18 age- and sex- matched controls (HC) were obtained. We calculated the volume transfer constant (Ktrans) value and compared the difference between two groups. The regions with the abnormal Ktrans value were extracted as ROIs (thalamus), and the correlation with the clinical characters and grey matter volume were analysed.

      Results

      The results revealed that, compared with the HC, the volume transfer constant (Ktrans) value of the bilateral thalamus in the schizophrenia group was increased (p < 0.001). There were significant positive correlations between thalamic mean Ktrans value with disease duration (p < 0.05) and symptom severity (p < 0.001). Analysis of the thalamic subregions revealed that the BBB disruption was significant in pulvinar, especially the medial pulvinar nucleus (PuM) and lateral pulvinar nucleus (PuL) (p < 0.001). The Ktrans value of the whole brain, thalamus, and thalamic subregions was negatively correlated with their volume separately.

      Conclusion

      These results provided the first in vivo evidence of BBB disruption of thalamus in schizophrenia patients, and the BBB dysfunction might contribute to the pathological brain structural alterations in schizophrenia.

      Key words

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