Excitatory/Inhibitory Imbalance Underlies Hippocampal Atrophy in Individuals With 22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome With Psychotic Symptoms.

Mancini V
Saleh MG
Delavari F
Bagautdinova J
Eliez S
Scientific Abstract

Abnormal neurotransmitter levels have been reported in individuals at high risk for schizophrenia, leading to a shift in the excitatory/inhibitory balance. However, it is unclear whether these alterations predate the onset of clinically relevant symptoms. Our aim was to explore in vivo measures of excitatory/inhibitory balance in 22q11.2 deletion carriers, a population at genetic risk for psychosis.

Glx (glutamate+glutamine) and GABA+ (gamma-aminobutyric acid with macromolecules and homocarnosine) concentrations were estimated in the anterior cingulate cortex, superior temporal cortex, and hippocampus using the Mescher-Garwood point-resolved spectroscopy (MEGA-PRESS) sequence and the Gannet toolbox in 52 deletion carriers and 42 control participants. T1-weighted images were acquired longitudinally and processed with FreeSurfer version 6 to extract hippocampal volume. Subgroup analyses were conducted in deletion carriers with psychotic symptoms.

While no differences were found in the anterior cingulate cortex, deletion carriers had higher levels of Glx in the hippocampus and superior temporal cortex and lower levels of GABA+ in the hippocampus than control participants. We additionally found a higher Glx concentration in the hippocampus of deletion carriers with psychotic symptoms. Finally, more pronounced hippocampal atrophy was significantly associated with increased Glx levels in deletion carriers.

We provide evidence for an excitatory/inhibitory imbalance in temporal brain structures of deletion carriers, with a further hippocampal Glx increase in individuals with psychotic symptoms that was associated with hippocampal atrophy. These results are in line with theories proposing abnormally enhanced glutamate levels as a mechanistic explanation for hippocampal atrophy via excitotoxicity. Our results highlight a central role of glutamate in the hippocampus of individuals at genetic risk for schizophrenia.


2023. Biol Psychiatry, 94(7):569-579.

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