Cortical thinning in frontal and temporal regions has been reported in individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia and, less consistently, among their unaffected first-degree relatives. Likewise, first-degree relatives demonstrate attenuated differences in neurocognitive performance relative to healthy controls, indicating that neurocognitive performance may be an important endophenotype of the disorder. Less is known about how cortical thickness relates to neurocognitive performance in these individuals.
Given the robust nature of temporal structural abnormalities in schizophrenia, this study aimed to identify how temporal lobe cortical thickness might relate to verbal memory in first-degree relatives. Unaffected parents and siblings of individuals with adult-onset schizophrenia (N=62) and individuals in healthy control families (N=70) participating in the UCLA Family Study received a structural MRI and completed a battery of neurocognitive tests.
Cortical thickness was estimated across the cortex and thickness measures of all regions in the temporal lobe were summed, averaged, and residualized for age and sex to produce a variable. A verbal learning factor was derived from two common tests of verbal learning and memory, the CVLT-II and Logical Memory of the WMS-III. Results demonstrated a significant interaction between group and verbal learning in relationship to temporal lobe thickness. Post-hoc analyses revealed significant correlations between verbal learning and cortical thickness in the relatives of schizophrenia patients which were driven by immediate recall scores on the CVLT-II and Logical Memory. These findings indicate that cortical thickness in the temporal cortex may represent a structural correlate for encoding verbal information in unaffected relatives of individuals with schizophrenia.