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May 1996

Maldistribution of Interstitial Neurons in Prefrontal White Matter of the Brains of Schizophrenic Patients

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Anatomy and Neurobiology (Drs Akbarian and Jones and Mr Kim) and Psychiatry and Human Behavior (Drs Potkin, Hetrick, and Bunney), University of California, Irvine.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1996;53(5):425-436. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1996.01830050061010

Background:  The cortical subplate is a transitory structure involved in the formation of connections in developing cerebral cortex. Interstitial neurons, normally present in subcortical white matter (WM) of the adult brain, have escaped the programmed cell death that eliminates most subplate neurons. Previous investigations indicated a maldistribution of one population of interstitial neurons in the WM of brains of schizophrenic patients, suggesting a defect of the subplate during brain development.

Methods:  Three histochemically or immunocytochemically defined neuronal populations were studied in WM beneath the middle frontal gyrus of 20 schizophrenic patients and 20 matched control subjects.

Results:  Brains of schizophrenic patients showed significant changes in the distribution of the three neuronal populations: microtubule-associated protein 2 and nonphosphorylated neurofilament-immunoreactive neurons showed a decreased density in superficial WM and an increased density in deeper WM. Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate—diaphorase neurons were reduced in superficial WM and showed variable densities in deeper WM. Thirty-five percent of the brains of schizophrenic patients but no brains of the control subjects showed a maldistribution of neurons toward deeper WM with at least two of the three markers. Changes in neuronal distribution were not linked to age, gender, autolysis time, or subtype of schizophrenia.

Conclusions:  Selective displacement of interstitial WM neurons in the frontal lobe of brains of schizophrenic patients may indicate alteration in the migration of subplate neurons or in the pattern of programmed cell death. Both could lead to defective cortical circuitry in the brains of schizophrenic patients.