Asphyxia at birth affects brain structure in patients on the schizophrenia-bipolar disorder spectrum and healthy participants


Background: Uncertainty exists about what causes brain structure alterations associated with schizophrenia (SZ) and bipolar disorder (BD). Whether a history of asphyxia-related obstetric complication (ASP) - a common but harmful condition for neural tissue - contributes to variations in adult brain structure is unclear. We investigated ASP and its relationship to intracranial (ICV), global brain volumes and regional cortical and subcortical structures. Methods: A total of 311 patients on the SZ - BD spectrum and 218 healthy control (HC) participants underwent structural magnetic resonance imaging. They were evaluated for ASP using prospective information obtained from the Medical Birth Registry of Norway.Results: In all groups, ASP was related to smaller ICV, total brain, white and gray matter volumes and total surface area, but not to cortical thickness. Smaller cortical surface areas were found across frontal, parietal, occipital, temporal and insular regions. Smaller hippocampal, amygdala, thalamus, caudate and putamen volumes were reported for all ASP subgroups. ASP effects did not survive ICV correction, except in the caudate, which remained significantly smaller in both patient ASP subgroups, but not in the HC.Conclusions: Since ASP was associated with smaller brain volumes in all groups, the genetic risk of developing a severe mental illness, alone, cannot easily explain the smaller ICV. Only the smaller caudate volumes of ASP patients specifically suggest that injury from ASP can be related to disease development. Our findings give support for the ICV as a marker of aberrant neurodevelopment and ASP in the etiology of brain development in BD and SZ.

Psychological Medicine