Dysconnectivity of the medio-dorsal thalamic nucleus in drug-naïve first episode schizophrenia: diagnosis-specific or trans-diagnostic effect?

Qiyong Gong, Vaisakh Puthusseryppady, Jing Dai, Manxi He, Xin Xu, Yan Shi, Baiwan Zhou, Yuan Ai, Cheng Yang, Feifei Zhang, Su Lui, Andrea Mechelli

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Converging lines of evidence implicate the thalamocortical network in schizophrenia. In particular, the onset of the illness is associated with aberrant functional integration between the medio-dorsal thalamic nucleus (MDN) and widespread prefrontal, temporal and parietal cortical regions. Because the thalamus is also implicated in other psychiatric illnesses including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depressive disorder (MDD), the diagnostic specificity of these alterations is unclear. Here, we determined whether aberrant functional integration between the MDN and the cortex is a specific feature of schizophrenia or a trans-diagnostic feature of psychiatric illness. Effective connectivity (EC) between the MDN and rest of the cortex was measured by applying psychophysiological interaction analysis to resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging data of 50 patients with first episode schizophrenia (FES), 50 patients with MDD, 50 patients with PTSD and 122 healthy controls. All participants were medication-naïve. The only significant schizophrenia-specific effect was increased EC between the right MDN and the right pallidum (p < 0.05 corrected). In contrast, there were a number of significant trans-diagnostic alterations, with both right and left MDN displaying trans-diagnostic increased EC with several prefrontal and parietal regions bilaterally (p < 0.05 corrected). EC alterations between the MDN and the cortex are not specific to schizophrenia but are a trans-diagnostic feature of psychiatric disorders, consistent with emerging conceptualizations of mental illness based on a single general psychopathology factor. Therefore, dysconnectivity of the MDN could potentially be used to assess the presence of general psychopathology above and beyond traditional diagnostic boundaries.

Original languageEnglish
Article number9
JournalTranslational Psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jan 2019

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