White matter alterations between brain network hubs underlie processing speed impairment in patients with schizophrenia
AUTHORS: Klauser P, Cropley VL, Baumann PS, Lv J, Steullet P, Dwir D, Alemán-Gómez Y, Bach Cuadra M, Cuenod M, Do KQ, Conus P, Pantelis C, Fornito A, Van Rheenen TE, Zalesky A
Schizophrenia Bulletin, 2(1): , July 2021
Processing speed (PS) impairment is one of the most severe and common cognitive deficits in schizophrenia. Previous studies have reported correlations between PS and white matter diffusion properties, including fractional anisotropy (FA), in several fiber bundles in schizophrenia, suggesting that white matter alterations could underpin decreased PS. In schizophrenia, white matter alterations are most prevalent within inter-hub connections of the rich club. However, the spatial and topological characteristics of this association between PS and FA have not been investigated in patients. In this context, we tested whether structural connections comprising the rich club network would underlie PS impairment in 298 patients with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder and 190 healthy controls from the Australian Schizophrenia Research Bank. PS, measured using the digit symbol coding task, was largely (Cohen’s d = 1.33) and significantly (P < .001) reduced in the patient group when compared with healthy controls. Significant associations between PS and FA were widespread in the patient group, involving all cerebral lobes. FA was not associated with other cognitive measures of phonological fluency and verbal working memory in patients, suggesting specificity to PS. A topological analysis revealed that despite being spatially widespread, associations between PS and FA were over-represented among connections forming the rich club network. These findings highlight the need to consider brain network topology when investigating high-order cognitive functions that may be spatially distributed among several brain regions. They also reinforce the evidence that brain hubs and their interconnections may be particularly vulnerable parts of the brain in schizophrenia.