BackgroundSchizophrenia and bipolar disorder share genetic liability, and some structural brain abnormalities are common to both conditions. First-degree relatives of patients with schizophrenia (FDRs-SZ) show similar brain abnormalities to patients, albeit with smaller effect sizes. Imaging findings in first-degree relatives of patients with bipolar disorder (FDRs-BD) have been inconsistent in the past, but recent studies report regionally greater volumes compared with control subjects.
MethodsWe performed a meta-analysis of global and subcortical brain measures of 6008 individuals (1228 FDRs-SZ, 852 FDRs-BD, 2246 control subjects, 1016 patients with schizophrenia, 666 patients with bipolar disorder) from 34 schizophrenia and/or bipolar disorder family cohorts with standardized methods. Analyses were repeated with a correction for intracranial volume (ICV) and for the presence of any psychopathology in the relatives and control subjects.
ResultsFDRs-BD had significantly larger ICV (d = +0.16, q < .05 corrected), whereas FDRs-SZ showed smaller thalamic volumes than control subjects (d = -0.12, q < .05 corrected). ICV explained the enlargements in the brain measures in FDRs-BD. In FDRs-SZ, after correction for ICV, total brain, cortical gray matter, cerebral white matter, cerebellar gray and white matter, and thalamus volumes were significantly smaller; the cortex was thinner (d < -0.09, q < .05 corrected); and third ventricle was larger (d = +0.15, q < .05 corrected). The findings were not explained by psychopathology in the relatives or control subjects.
ConclusionsDespite shared genetic liability, FDRs-SZ and FDRs-BD show a differential pattern of structural brain abnormalities, specifically a divergent effect in ICV. This may imply that the neurodevelopmental trajectories leading to brain anomalies in schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are distinct.