Schizophrenia patients demonstrate perceptual deficits consistent with broad dysfunction in visual context processing. These include poor integration of segments forming visual contours, and reduced visual contrast effects (e.g. weaker orientation-dependent surround suppression, ODSS). Background image context can influence contour perception, as stimuli near the contour affect detection accuracy. Because of ODSS, this contextual modulation depends on the relative orientation between the contour and flanking elements, with parallel flankers impairing contour perception. However in schizophrenia, the impact of abnormal ODSS during contour perception is not clear. It is also unknown whether deficient contour perception marks genetic liability for schizophrenia, or is strictly associated with clinical expression of this disorder. We examined contour detection in 25 adults with schizophrenia, 13 unaffected first-degree biological relatives of schizophrenia patients, and 28 healthy controls. Subjects performed a psychophysics experiment designed to quantify the effect of flanker orientation during contour detection. Overall, patients with schizophrenia showed poorer contour detection performance than relatives or controls. Parallel flankers suppressed and orthogonal flankers enhanced contour detection performance for all groups, but parallel suppression was relatively weaker for schizophrenia patients than healthy controls. Relatives of patients showed equivalent performance with controls. Computational modeling suggested that abnormal contextual modulation in schizophrenia may be explained by suppression that is more broadly tuned for orientation. Abnormal flanker suppression in schizophrenia is consistent with weaker ODSS and/or broader orientation tuning. This work provides the first evidence that such perceptual abnormalities may not be associated with a genetic liability for schizophrenia.
The Human Connectome Project (HCP) relies primarily on three complementary magnetic resonance (MR) methods. These are: 1) resting state functional MR imaging (rfMRI) which uses correlations in the temporal fluctuations in an fMRI time series to deduce 'functional connectivity'; 2) diffusion imaging (dMRI), which provides the input for tractography algorithms used for the reconstruction of the complex axonal fiber architecture; and 3) task based fMRI (tfMRI), which is employed to identify functional parcellation in the human brain in order to assist analyses of data obtained with the first two methods. We describe technical improvements and optimization of these methods as well as instrumental choices that impact speed of acquisition of fMRI and dMRI images at 3T, leading to whole brain coverage with 2 mm isotropic resolution in 0.7 s for fMRI, and 1.25 mm isotropic resolution dMRI data for tractography analysis with three-fold reduction in total dMRI data acquisition time. Ongoing technical developments and optimization for acquisition of similar data at 7 T magnetic field are also presented, targeting higher spatial resolution, enhanced specificity of functional imaging signals, mitigation of the inhomogeneous radio frequency (RF) fields, and reduced power deposition. Results demonstrate that overall, these approaches represent a significant advance in MR imaging of the human brain to investigate brain function and structure.
Disruption of visual percepts by a subsequent stimulus (ie, backward masking) has been consistently noted in schizophrenia, with some evidence that this fragility in early perception is present in people with genetic liability for the disorder. Given the potential of backward masking paradigms to mark neural processes that confer risk for schizophrenia, it is important to test the diagnostic specificity of abnormalities in visual perception. To more fully assess whether masking visual stimuli reveals a marker of genetic liability (ie, endophenotype) specific to schizophrenia, we tested 44 people with the disorder, 29 people with bipolar disorder, 56 first-degree biological relatives of people with schizophrenia, 26 first-degree biological relatives of people with bipolar disorder, and 43 nonpsychiatric control participants using a magnocellular-biased visual backward masking procedure that included target-to-mask onset asynchronies ranging from 0 to 80 ms. Relatives of people with schizophrenia who were without schizophrenia spectrum disorders exhibited impaired performance compared with nonpsychiatric control participants and relatives of people with bipolar disorder when a visual mask interrupted early perception (eg, 27 ms). A similar vulnerability of early processes was noted in people with schizophrenia, yet they also had impaired performance when masks occurred at later time points (ie, 80 ms). Performance deficits were not attributable to intellectual function, measures of attention and memory, symptomatology, or medication dosage. Bipolar patients and their relatives failed to exhibit deficits on the backward masking task. Fragility of early visual percepts appears to mark genetic liability specific to schizophrenia and may serve as an endophenotype for the disorder.
Recent work has established that cerebral blood flow is regulated at a spatial scale that can be resolved by high field fMRI to show cortical columns in humans. While cortical columns represent a cluster of neurons with similar response properties (spanning from the pial surface to the white matter), important information regarding neuronal interactions and computational processes is also contained within a single column, distributed across the six cortical lamina. A basic understanding of underlying neuronal circuitry or computations may be revealed through investigations of the distribution of neural responses at different cortical depths. In this study, we used T(2)-weighted imaging with 0.7 mm (isotropic) resolution to measure fMRI responses at different depths in the gray matter while human subjects observed images with either recognizable or scrambled (physically impossible) objects. Intact and scrambled images were partially occluded, resulting in clusters of activity distributed across primary visual cortex. A subset of the identified clusters of voxels showed a preference for scrambled objects over intact; in these clusters, the fMRI response in middle layers was stronger during the presentation of scrambled objects than during the presentation of intact objects. A second experiment, using stimuli targeted at either the magnocellular or the parvocellular visual pathway, shows that laminar profiles in response to parvocellular-targeted stimuli peak in more superficial layers. These findings provide new evidence for the differential sensitivity of high-field fMRI to modulations of the neural responses at different cortical depths.
IMPORTANT FOR THE INTERPRETATION OF BOLD FMRI DATA IS A LINEAR RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE BOLD RESPONSE AND THE UNDERLYING NEURAL ACTIVITY: increased BOLD responses should reflect proportionate increases in the underlying neural activity. While previous studies have demonstrated a linear relationship between the peak amplitude of the BOLD response and neural activity in primary visual cortex (V1), these studies have used stimuli that excite large areas of cortex, and the linearity of the BOLD response has not been demonstrated when only a small patch of cortex is stimulated. The BOLD response to isolated Gabor patches of increasing contrast was measured with gradient echo (GE) BOLD and spin echo (SE) BOLD at 7 T. Our primary finding is notable spatial heterogeneity of the BOLD contrast response, particularly for the GE BOLD data, resulting in a more reliably linear relationship between BOLD data and estimated neural responses in the center of the cortical representations of the individual Gabor patches than near the edges. A control experiment with larger sinusoidal grating patches confirms that the observed sensitivity to voxel selection in the regions of interest-based analysis is unique to the small stimuli.
For blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) functional MRI experiments, contrast-to-noise ratio (CNR) increases with increasing field strength for both gradient echo (GE) and spin echo (SE) BOLD techniques. However, susceptibility artifacts and nonuniform coil sensitivity profiles complicate large field-of-view fMRI experiments (e.g., experiments covering multiple visual areas instead of focusing on a single cortical region). Here, we use SE BOLD to acquire retinotopic mapping data in early visual areas, testing the feasibility of SE BOLD experiments spanning multiple cortical areas at 7T. We also use a recently developed method for normalizing signal intensity in T(1)-weighted anatomical images to enable automated segmentation of the cortical gray matter for scans acquired at 7T with either surface or volume coils. We find that the CNR of the 7T GE data (average single-voxel, single-scan stimulus coherence: 0.41) is almost twice that of the 3T GE BOLD data (average coherence: 0.25), with the CNR of the SE BOLD data (average coherence: 0.23) comparable to that of the 3T GE data. Repeated measurements in individual subjects find that maps acquired with 1.8-mm resolution at 3T and 7T with GE BOLD and at 7T with SE BOLD show no systematic differences in either the area or the boundary locations for V1, V2 and V3, demonstrating the feasibility of high-resolution SE BOLD experiments with good sensitivity throughout multiple visual areas.
Schizophrenia is characterized by a lack of integration between thought, emotion, and behavior. A disruption in the connectivity between brain processes may underlie this schism. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) were used to evaluate functional and anatomical brain connectivity in schizophrenia.
Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) provides anatomical connectivity information by examining the directional organization of white matter microstructure. Anatomical connectivity and its abnormalities may be heritable traits associated with schizophrenia. To further examine this hypothesis, two studies were conducted to compare anatomical connectivity between (a) monozygotic (MZ) twin pairs and random pairings among twins and (b) first-degree relatives of schizophrenia patients and a healthy control group. Analyses focused on frontal regions of the brain following previous findings of anatomical connectivity abnormalities associated with schizophrenia. For Study 1, eighteen MZ twin pairs (11 female pairs, age: M = 25.44, SD = 5.69) were recruited. For Study 2, twenty-two first-degree relatives of schizophrenia patients (14 females, age: M = 48.50, SD = 8.22), and 30 healthy controls (12 females, age: M = 43.83, SD = 11.39) were recruited. Fractional anisotropy (FA), a white matter directional organization metric, was measured with DTI. In Study 1, FA values were more strongly correlated between MZ twin pairs than between randomly generated pairs in genu of corpus callosum, anterior cingulum and forceps minor. In Study 2, relatives of schizophrenia patients showed reduced FA values in medial frontal white matter (p < 0.05, corrected). The present study suggested that anatomical connectivity in medial prefrontal cortex appeared significantly heritable within MZ twin pairs, an important criterion in the development of an endophenotype. In addition, altered medial frontal white matter integrity found in non-affected relatives of schizophrenia patients seems to suggest that reduced white matter integrity in medial frontal regions of the brain might be associated with the genetic liability to schizophrenia.
A deficit in sustained attention might serve as an endophenotype for schizophrenia and therefore be a useful tool in understanding the genetic underpinnings of the disorder. We sought to detail functional brain abnormalities associated with sustained attention (i.e., vigilance) in individuals with genetic liability for schizophrenia.