The dark side of the mean: brain structural heterogeneity in schizophrenia and its polygenic risk.
Dennis van der Meer,
Deanna M. Barch,
Christine L. Brandt,
Nhat Trung Doan,
Annabella Di Giorgio,
Erik G. Jönsson,
Martina J Lund,
Olav B. Smeland,
Lars T. Westlye
Posted 04 Sep 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/407890
Posted 04 Sep 2018
Importance: Between-subject variability in brain structure is determined by gene-environment interactions, possibly reflecting differential sensitivity to environmental and genetic perturbations. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies have revealed thinner cortices and smaller subcortical volumes in patients. However, such group-level comparisons may mask considerable within-group heterogeneity, which has largely remained unnoticed in the literature. Objective: To compare brain structural variability between individuals with SZ and healthy controls (HC) and to test if respective variability reflects the polygenic risk for SZ (PRS) in HC. Design, Setting, and Participants: We compared MRI derived cortical thickness and subcortical volumes between 2,010 healthy controls and 1,151 patients with SZ across 16 cohorts. Secondly, we tested for associations between PRS and MRI features in 12,490 participants from UK Biobank. Main Outcomes and Measures: We modeled mean and dispersion effects of SZ and PRS using double generalized linear models. We performed vertex-wise analyses for thickness, and region-of-interest analysis for cortical, subcortical and hippocampal subfield volumes. Follow-up analyses included within-sample analysis, controlling for intracranial volume and population covariates, test of robustness of PRS threshold, and outlier removal. Results: Compared to controls, patients with SZ showed higher heterogeneity in cortical thickness, cortical and ventricle volumes, and hippocampal subfields. Higher PRS was associated with thinner frontal and temporal cortices, as well as smaller left CA2/3, but was not significantly associated with dispersion. Conclusion and relevance: SZ is associated with substantial brain structural heterogeneity beyond the mean differences. These findings possibly reflect higher differential sensitivity to environmental and genetic perturbations in patients, supporting the heterogeneous nature of SZ. Higher PRS for SZ was associated with thinner fronto-temporal cortices and smaller subcortical volumes, but there were no significant associations with the heterogeneity in these measures, i.e. the variability among individuals with high PRS were comparable to the variability among individuals with low PRS. This suggests that brain variability in SZ results from interactions between environmental and genetic factors that are not captured by the PGR. Factors contributing to heterogeneity in fronto-temporal cortices and hippocampus are thus key to further our understanding of how genetic and environmental factors shape brain biology in SZ.
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