At present, current diagnostic criteria and systems neglect affective symptom expression in catatonia. This potentially serious omission could explain why putative contributions of limbic system structures, such as amygdala, hippocampus or hypothalamus, to catatonia in schizophrenia spectrum disorders (SSD) have been scarcely investigated so far. To determine whether topographical alterations of the amygdala, hippocampus and hypothalamus contribute to catatonia in SSD patients, we conducted structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of SSD patients with (SSD-Cat, n = 30) and without (SSD-nonCat, n = 28) catatonia as defined by a Northoff Catatonia Rating Scale (NCRS) total score of ≥3 and =0, respectively, in comparison with healthy controls (n = 20). FreeSurfer v7.2 was used for automated segmentation of the amygdala and its 9 nuclei, hippocampus and its 21 subfields and hypothalamus and its associated 5 subunits. SSD-Cat had significantly smaller anterior inferior hypothalamus, cortical nucleus of amygdala, and hippocampal fimbria volumes when compared to SSD-nonCat. SSD-Cat had significantly smaller amygdala, hippocampus and hypothalamus whole and subunit volumes when compared to healthy controls. In SSD-Cat according to DSM-IV-TR (n = 44), we identified positive correlations between Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale (BPRS) item #2 (reflecting anxiety) and respective amygdala nuclei as well as negative correlation between NCRS behavioral score and hippocampus subiculum head. The lower volumes of respective limbic structures involved in affect regulation may point towards central affective pathomechanisms in catatonia.
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