Background and Hypothesis

Neurocognitive and social cognitive abilities are important contributors to functional outcomes in schizophrenia spectrum disorders (SSDs). An unanswered question of considerable interest is whether neurocognitive and social cognitive deficits arise from overlapping or distinct white matter impairment(s).

Study Design

We sought to fill this gap, by harnessing a large sample of individuals from the multi-center Social Processes Initiative in the Neurobiology of the Schizophrenia(s) (SPINS) dataset, unique in its collection of advanced diffusion imaging and an extensive battery of cognitive assessments. We applied canonical correlation analysis to estimates of white matter microstructure, and cognitive performance, across people with and without an SSD.

Study Results

Our results established that white matter circuitry is dimensionally and strongly related to both neurocognition and social cognition, and that microstructure of the uncinate fasciculus and the rostral body of the corpus callosum may assume a “privileged role” subserving both. Further, we found that participant-wise estimates of white matter microstructure, weighted by cognitive performance, were largely consistent with participants’ categorical diagnosis, and predictive of (cross-sectional) functional outcomes.

Conclusions

The demonstrated strength of the relationship between white matter circuitry and neurocognition and social cognition underscores the potential for using relationships among these variables to identify biomarkers of functioning, with potential prognostic and therapeutic implications.

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