Brain 2013 Nov 22;136(Pt 11):3215-26. Epub 2013 May 22.
1 Child Psychiatry Branch, National Institute of Mental Health, NIH, Bethesda Maryland, USA.
Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder that has a strong genetic basis. Converging evidence suggests that schizophrenia is a progressive neurodevelopmental disorder, with earlier onset cases resulting in more profound brain abnormalities. Siblings of patients with schizophrenia provide an invaluable resource for differentiating between trait and state markers, thus highlighting possible endophenotypes for ongoing research. However, findings from sibling studies have not been systematically put together in a coherent story across the broader age span. We review here the cortical grey matter abnormalities in siblings of patients with schizophrenia from childhood to adulthood, by reviewing sibling studies from both childhood-onset schizophrenia, and the more common adult-onset schizophrenia. When reviewed together, studies suggest that siblings of patients with schizophrenia display significant brain abnormalities that highlight both similarities and differences between the adult and childhood populations, with shared developmental risk patterns, and segregating trajectories. Based on current research it appears that the cortical grey matter abnormalities in siblings are likely to be an age-dependent endophenotype, which normalize by the typical age of onset of schizophrenia unless there has been more genetic or symptom burdening. With increased genetic burdening (e.g. discordant twins of patients) the grey matter abnormalities in (twin) siblings are progressive in adulthood. This synthesis of the literature clarifies the importance of brain plasticity in the pathophysiology of the illness, indicating that probands may lack protective factors critical for healthy development.