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Psychotic-like experiences, polygenic risk scores for schizophrenia, and structural properties of the salience, default mode, and central-executive networks in healthy participants from UK Biobank

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
JournalTranslational Psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Apr 2020


Schizophrenia is a highly heritable disorder with considerable phenotypic heterogeneity. Hallmark psychotic symptoms can be considered as existing on a continuum from non-clinical to clinical populations. Assessing genetic risk and psychotic-like experiences (PLEs) in non-clinical populations and their associated neurobiological underpinnings can offer valuable insights into symptom-associated brain mechanisms without the potential confounds of the effects of schizophrenia and its treatment. We leveraged a large population-based cohort (UKBiobank, N = 3875) including information on PLEs (obtained from the Mental Health Questionnaire (MHQ); UKBiobank Category: 144; N auditory hallucinations = 55, N visual hallucinations = 79, N persecutory delusions = 16, N delusions of reference = 13), polygenic risk scores for schizophrenia (PRSSZ) and multi-modal brain imaging in combination with network neuroscience. Morphometric (cortical thickness, volume) and water diffusion (fractional anisotropy) properties of the regions and pathways belonging to the salience, default-mode, and central-executive networks were computed. We hypothesized that these anatomical concomitants of functional dysconnectivity would be negatively associated with PRSSZ and PLEs. PRSSZ was significantly associated with a latent measure of cortical thickness across the salience network (r = -0.069, p = 0.010) and PLEs showed a number of significant associations, both negative and positive, with properties of the salience and default mode networks (involving the insular cortex, supramarginal gyrus, and pars orbitalis, pFDR < 0.050); with the cortical thickness of the insula largely mediating the relationship between PRSSZ and auditory hallucinations. Generally, these results are consistent with the hypothesis that higher genetic liability for schizophrenia is related to subtle disruptions in brain structure and may predispose to PLEs even among healthy participants. In addition, our study suggests that networks engaged during auditory hallucinations show structural associations with PLEs in the general population.

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