In patients with schizophrenia, a deflated hippocampus is linked to increased illness severity and poorer social functioning, according to an Italian study.
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that significantly affects cognition and often causes chronic problems with behavior and emotion. Along with a breakdown of thought processes, the disorder is also characterized by poor emotional responsiveness, paranoia, auditory hallucinations and delusions.
For the study, Paolo Brambilla, M.D., of the University of Udine and a research team used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to develop 3D brain maps of 67 patients with schizophrenia and 72 mentally healthy individuals (the control group).
They discovered that greater bilateral hippocampal shape deflation was associated with longer length of illness and severity of positive and negative symptoms, reduced educational level, quality of life and general health status in patients with the disorder.
The results showed no significant difference between schizophrenia patients and controls in either hippocampal radial distance or intracranial volume, after accounting for age and gender.
In the schizophrenia group, however, greater bilateral hippocampal shape deflation was significantly associated with increased length of illness, lower levels of education, and higher scores for positive and negative symptom severity, after adjustment for intracranial volume, gender, and handedness.
Greater bilateral hippocampal shape deflation in the schizophrenia group was also associated with poorer scores for physical health and mental health.
The results may “assist in determining patients who would benefit from adequate therapeutic management such as psychosocial stimulation, cognitive rehabilitation or physical exercise,” the researchers said. “Such therapeutic strategies might potentially preserve or normalize hippocampal size, which could also be monitored to study the effects of clinical interventions, ultimately leading to better clinical and social outcomes.”
“Hippocampal deflation may be a structural sign of poor clinical outcome and social functioning in schizophrenia, helping to identify a subgroup of patients who might need specific treatment,” said the researchers.
Source: British Journal of Psychiatry