“Migration status is one of the best-established risk factors for schizophrenia. An increase in risk is observed in both first- and second-generation immigrants, with a varying magnitude depending on the ethnic background of the individuals. The underlying mechanisms for the increased risk are only recently coming into focus. A causal role for social stress has been widely proposed, and recent work indicated altered neural stress processing in the perigenual anterior cingulate cortex (pACC) in migrants.” Since previous work shows that social stress may lead to enduring changes in the gray matter volume of vulnerable brain regions, this study investigated the impact of migration background on brain structure. Subjects were matched for sociodemographic characteristics including age, gender, urban exposure, and education.  A significant group by gender interaction effect was found in pACC gray matter volume, which was reduced in males with migration background only. This mirrors previous findings in urban upbringing, another risk factor for schizophrenia. The authors concluded that the results show convergent evidence for an impact of environmental risk factors linked to schizophrenia on gray matter volume and highlighted the possibility that” the pACC structure may be particularly sensitive to the convergent risk factors linked to schizophrenia”.

Akdeniz C, Schäfer A, Streit F, Haller L, Wüst S, Kirsch P, Tost H, Meyer-Lindenberg A: Sex-Dependent Association of Perigenual Anterior Cingulate Cortex Volume and Migration Background, an Environmental Risk Factor for Schizophrenia. Schizophr. Bull. 43(4):925-934 (2017).


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