, Volume 119, Issue 6, pp 771-778
Date: 23 Mar 2010

Von Economo neuron density in the anterior cingulate cortex is reduced in early onset schizophrenia

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Abstract

The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) represents a phylogenetically ancient region of the mammalian brain that has undergone recent adaptive changes in humans. It contains a large spindle-shaped cell type, referred to as von Economo neuron (VEN) that has been shown to be involved in the pathophysiology of various neuropsychiatric disorders. Schizophrenia is a group of disorders that is, in part, characterised by a disruption of neuronal migration in early ontogeny and presumably secondary degeneration after the first psychotic episode in some patients. Accordingly, we tested the hypothesis that the density of VENs is reduced in a neurodevelopmental subtype of schizophrenia, which we defined by an early onset of the disorder. The density of VENs was estimated in layer Vb of Brodmann’s area 24 in 20 subjects diagnosed with schizophrenia. The results were compared with 19 specimens from patients with bipolar disorder as a clinical control and 22 non-psychiatric samples. The density of VENs did not differ between the three groups. However, the VEN density in the right ACC correlated with the age at onset, and inversely with the duration of the illness in schizophrenia, but not in bipolar disorder. Thus, patients with early onset schizophrenia (and longer duration of illness) had a reduced VEN density. Age, sex, postmortem interval, brain weight, and cortical thickness had no significant impact on the results. These findings suggest that VENs in the ACC are involved in neurodevelopmental and perhaps neurodegenerative processes specific to schizophrenia.