Background: Alcohol abuse and dependence have been reported to exacerbate the clinical course of schizophrenia. However, the neurobiological basis of this co-morbid interaction is unknown. The aim of this study was to determine the relationship of co-morbid alcohol use disorder (AUD) with brain structure abnormalities in schizophrenia patients. Methods: T1-weighted magnetic resonance images were collected from schizophrenia patients without a history of any substance use disorder (SCZ_0, n = 35), schizophrenia patients with a history of AUD only (SCZ_AUD, n = 16), and a healthy comparison group without a history of any substance use disorder (CON, n = 56). Large-deformation, high-dimensional brain mapping was used to quantify the surface shapes of the hippocampus, thalamus, striatum, and globus pallidus in these subject groups. Analysis of variance was used to test for differences in surface shape measures among the groups. Results: SCZ_AUD demonstrated the greatest severity of shape abnormalities in the hippocampus, thalamus, striatum, and globus pallidus as compared to SCZ_0 and CON. SCZ_AUD demonstrated a combination of exaggerated shape differences in regions where SCZ_0 also showed shape differences, and unique shape differences that were not observed in SCZ_0 or CON. Conclusions: Shape differences in schizophrenia were compounded by a history of co-morbid AUD. Future research is needed to determine whether these differences are simply additive or whether they are due to an interaction between the underlying neurobiology of schizophrenia and alcoholism. The consequences of such shape differences for the clinical course of schizophrenia are not yet understood. © 2011 Elsevier B.V.
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