Neuroimaging studies of schizophrenia have indicated that the development of auditory verbal hallucinations (AVHs) is associated with altered structural and functional connectivity within the perisylvian language network. However, these studies focussed mainly on either structural or functional alterations in patients with chronic schizophrenia. Therefore, they were unable to examine the relationship between the 2 types of measures and could not establish whether the observed alterations would be expressed in the early stage of the illness.
We used diffusion tensor imaging and functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine white matter integrity and functional connectivity within the left perisylvian language network of 46 individuals with an at risk mental state for psychosis or a first episode of the illness, including 28 who had developed AVH group and 18 who had not (nonauditory verbal hallucination [nAVH] group), and 22 healthy controls. Inferences were made at P < .05 (corrected). The nAVH group relative to healthy controls showed a reduction of both white matter integrity and functional connectivity as well as a disruption of the normal structure−function relationship along the fronto-temporal pathway. For all measures, the AVH group showed intermediate values between healthy controls and the nAVH group. These findings seem to suggest that, in the early stage of the disorder, a significant impairment of fronto-temporal connectivity is evident in patients who do not experience AVHs. This is consistent with the hypothesis that, whilst mild disruption of connectivity might still enable the emergence of AVHs, more severe alterations may prevent the occurrence of the hallucinatory experience.