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It is not clear whether the progressive changes in brain microstructural deficits documented in previous longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies might be due to the disease process or to other factors such as medication. It is important to explore the longitudinal alterations in white-matter (WM) microstructure in antipsychotic-naive patients with first-episode schizophrenia during the very early phase of treatment when relatively ‘free’ from chronicity.
Thirty-five patients with first-episode schizophrenia and 22 healthy volunteers were recruited. High-resolution diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) was obtained from participants at baseline and after 6 weeks of treatment. A ‘difference map’ for each individual was calculated from the 6-week follow-up fractional anisotropy (FA) of DTI minus the baseline FA. Differences in Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS) scores and Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) scores between baseline and 6 weeks were also evaluated and expressed as a 6-week/baseline ratio.
Compared to healthy controls, there was a significant decrease in absolute FA of WM around the bilateral anterior cingulate gyrus and the right anterior corona radiata of the frontal lobe in first-episode drug-naive patients with schizophrenia following 6 weeks of treatment. Clinical symptoms improved during this period but the change in FA did not correlate with the changes in clinical symptoms or the dose of antipsychotic medication.
During the early phase of treatment, there is an acute reduction in WM FA that may be due to the effects of antipsychotic medications. However, it is not possible to entirely exclude the effects of underlying progression of illness.
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