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Original Investigation
August 2016

Dopamine-Related Disruption of Functional Topography of Striatal Connections in Unmedicated Patients With Schizophrenia

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, New York
  • 2Division of Translational Imaging, New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York
  • 3Division of Integrative Neuroscience, New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York
JAMA Psychiatry. 2016;73(8):862-870. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.0178

Importance  Despite the well-established role of striatal dopamine in psychosis, current views generally agree that cortical dysfunction is likely necessary for the emergence of psychotic symptoms. The topographic organization of striatal-cortical connections is central to gating and integration of higher-order information, so a disruption of such topography via dysregulated dopamine could lead to cortical dysfunction in schizophrenia. However, this hypothesis remains to be tested using multivariate methods ascertaining the global pattern of striatal connectivity and without the confounding effects of antidopaminergic medication.

Objectives  To examine whether the pattern of brain connectivity across striatal subregions is abnormal in unmedicated patients with schizophrenia and whether this abnormality relates to psychotic symptoms and extrastriatal dopaminergic transmission.

Design, Setting, and Participants  In this multimodal, case-control study, we obtained resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging data from 18 unmedicated patients with schizophrenia and 24 matched healthy controls from the New York State Psychiatric Institute. A subset of these (12 and 17, respectively) underwent positron emission tomography with the dopamine D2 receptor radiotracer carbon 11–labeled FLB457 before and after amphetamine administration. Data were acquired between June 16, 2011, and February 25, 2014. Data analysis was performed from September 1, 2014, to January 11, 2016.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Group differences in the striatal connectivity pattern (assessed via multivariable logistic regression) across striatal subregions, the association between the multivariate striatal connectivity pattern and extrastriatal baseline D2 receptor binding potential and its change after amphetamine administration, and the association between the multivariate connectivity pattern and the severity of positive symptoms evaluated with the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale.

Results  Of the patients with schizophrenia (mean [SEM] age, 35.6 [11.8] years), 9 (50%) were male and 9 (50%) were female. Of the controls (mean [SEM] age, 33.7 [8.8] years), 10 (42%) were male and 14 (58%) were female. Patients had an abnormal pattern of striatal connectivity, which included abnormal caudate connections with a distributed set of associative cortex regions (χ229 = 53.55, P = .004). In patients, more deviation from the multivariate pattern of striatal connectivity found in controls correlated specifically with more severe positive symptoms (ρ = −0.77, P = .002). Striatal connectivity also correlated with baseline binding potential across cortical and extrastriatal subcortical regions (t25 = 3.01, P = .01, Bonferroni corrected) but not with its change after amphetamine administration.

Conclusions and Relevance  Using a multimodal, circuit-level interrogation of striatal-cortical connections, it was demonstrated that the functional topography of these connections is globally disrupted in unmedicated patients with schizophrenia. These findings suggest that striatal-cortical dysconnectivity may underlie the effects of dopamine dysregulation on the pathophysiologic mechanism of psychotic symptoms.