Psychological Medicine

Review Article

Do antipsychotic drugs affect brain structure? A systematic and critical review of MRI findings

S. Navaria1a2 c1 and P. Dazzana1

a1 Division of Psychological Medicine and Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, UK

a2 Section of Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, Neurobiology, Pharmacology and Biotechnology, University of Pisa, Italy

Abstract

Background The potential effects of antipsychotic drugs on brain structure represent a key factor in understanding neuroanatomical changes in psychosis. This review addresses two issues: (1) do antipsychotic medications induce changes in total or regional human brain volumes and (2) do such effects depend on antipsychotic type?

Method A systematic review of studies reporting structural brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) measures: (1) directly in association with antipsychotic use; and (2) in patients receiving lifetime treatment with antipsychotics in comparison with drug-naive patients or healthy controls. We searched Medline and EMBASE databases using the medical subject heading terms: ‘antipsychotics’ AND ‘brain’ AND (MRI NOT functional). The search included studies published up to 31 January 2007. Wherever possible, we reported the effect size of the difference observed.

Results Thirty-three studies met our inclusion criteria. The results suggest that antipsychotics act regionally rather than globally on the brain. These volumetric changes are of a greater magnitude in association with typical than with atypical antipsychotic use. Indeed, there is evidence of a specific effect of antipsychotic type on the basal ganglia, with typicals specifically increasing the volume of these structures. Differential effects of antipsychotic type may also be present on the thalamus and the cortex, but data on these and other brain areas are more equivocal.

Conclusions Antipsychotic treatment potentially contributes to the brain structural changes observed in psychosis. Future research should take into account these potential effects, and use adequate sample sizes, to allow improved interpretation of neuroimaging findings in these disorders.

(Received December 21 2007)

(Revised December 17 2008)

(Accepted January 15 2009)

(Online publication April 02 2009)

Correspondence

c1 Address for correspondence: S. Navari, M.D., Ph.D., Psychiatrist and Research Associate, Division of Psychological Medicine and Psychiatry, PO Box 63, Institute of Psychiatry, De Crespigny Park, London SE 8AF, UK. (Email: serena.navari@iop.kcl.ac.uk)

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