Date Published:2002 Dec
Voxel-based morphometry (VBM) may afford a more rapid and extensive survey of gray matter abnormalities in schizophrenia than manually drawn region of interest (ROI) analysis, the current gold standard in structural MRI. Unfortunately, VBM has not been validated by comparison with ROI analyses, nor used in first-episode patients with schizophrenia or affective psychosis, who lack structural changes associated with chronicity. An SPM99-based implementation of VBM was used to compare a group of 16 patients with first-episode schizophrenia and a group of 18 normal controls and, as a further comparison, 16 first-episode patients with affective psychosis. All groups were matched for age and handedness. High spatial resolution structural images were normalized to the SPM99 template and then segmented, smoothed, and subjected to an ANCOVA. Schizophrenia vs control group comparisons: Voxel-by-voxel comparison of gray matter densities showed that only the left STG region was significantly different when corrected for multiple comparisons (P <.05), consistent with our previously reported manual ROI results. Analysis of the extent of voxel clusters, replicated with permutation analyses, revealed group differences in bilateral anterior cingulate gyri and insula (not previously examined by us with manually drawn ROI) and unilateral parietal lobe, but not in medial temporal lobe (where our ROI analysis had shown differences). However, use of a smaller smoothing kernel and a small volume correction revealed left-sided hippocampal group differences. Affective psychosis comparisons: When the same statistical thresholding criteria were used, no significant differences between affective psychosis patients and controls were noted. Since a major interest was whether patients with affective psychosis shared some anatomical abnormalities with schizophrenia, we applied a small volume correction and searched within the regions that were significantly less dense in schizophrenia compared to control subjects. With this statistical correction, the insula showed, bilaterally, the same pattern of differences in affective disorder subjects as that in schizophrenic subjects, whereas both left STG and left hippocampus showed statistical differences between affectives and schizophrenics, indicating the abnormalities specific to first-episode schizophrenia. These findings suggest both the promise and utility of VBM in evaluating gray matter abnormalities. They further suggest the importance of comparing VBM findings with more traditional ROI analyses until the reasons for the differences between methods are determined.