Characterizing the connectome in schizophrenia with diffusion spectrum imaging
Schizophrenia is a complex psychiatric disorder characterized by disabling symptoms and cognitive deficit. Recent neuroimaging findings suggest that large parts of the brain are affected by the disease, and that the capacity of functional integration between brain areas is decreased. In this study we questioned (i) which brain areas underlie the loss of network integration properties observed in the pathology, (ii) what is the topological role of the affected regions within the overall brain network and how this topological status might be altered in patients, and (iii) how white matter properties of tracts connecting affected regions may be disrupted. We acquired diffusion spectrum imaging (a technique sensitive to fiber crossing and slow diffusion compartment) data from 16 schizophrenia patients and 15 healthy controls, and investigated their weighted brain networks. The global connectivity analysis confirmed that patients present disrupted integration and segregation properties. The nodal analysis allowed identifying a distributed set of brain nodes affected in the pathology, including hubs and peripheral areas. To characterize the topological role of this affected core, we investigated the brain network shortest paths layout, and quantified the network damage after targeted attack toward the affected core. The centrality of the affected core was compromised in patients. Moreover the connectivity strength within the affected core, quantified with generalized fractional anisotropy and apparent diffusion coefficient, was altered in patients. Taken together, these findings suggest that the structural alterations and topological decentralization of the affected core might be major mechanisms underlying the schizophrenia dysconnectivity disorder.