Importance: The human brain forms a large-scale structural network of regions and interregional pathways. Recent studies have reported the existence of a selective set of highly central and interconnected hub regions that may play a crucial role in the brain’s integrative processes, together forming a central backbone for global brain communication. Abnormal brain connectivity may have a key role in the pathophysiology of schizophrenia.
Objective To examine the structure of the rich club in schizophrenia and its role in global functional brain dynamics.
Design: Structural diffusion tensor imaging and resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging were performed in patients with schizophrenia and matched healthy controls.
Setting: Department of Psychiatry, Rudolf Magnus Institute of Neuroscience, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht, the Netherlands.
Participants: Forty-eight patients and 45 healthy controls participated in the study. An independent replication data set of 41 patients and 51 healthy controls was included to replicate and validate significant findings.
Main Outcome(s) and Measures: Measures of rich club organization, connectivity density of rich club connections and connections linking peripheral regions to brain hubs, measures of global brain network efficiency, and measures of coupling between brain structure and functional dynamics.
Results: Rich club organization between high-degree hub nodes was significantly affected in patients, together with a reduced density of rich club connections predominantly comprising the white matter pathways that link the midline frontal, parietal, and insular hub regions. This reduction in rich club density was found to be associated with lower levels of global communication capacity, a relationship that was absent for other white matter pathways. In addition, patients had an increase in the strength of structural connectivity–functional connectivity coupling.
Conclusions: Our findings provide novel biological evidence that schizophrenia is characterized by a selective disruption of brain connectivity among central hub regions of the brain, potentially leading to reduced communication capacity and altered functional brain dynamics.