BACKGROUND Structural brain abnormalities have been reported in schizophrenia. We tested the hypothesis that these abnormalities represented a marker for the genetic liability to schizophrenia in a sample of people with schizophrenia and their relatives from families multiply affected with the disorder.
METHOD We compared 31 people with schizophrenia, 57 relatives and 39 unrelated control subjects. Volumetric measurement of brain structures was carried out using stereological principles from three-dimensional reconstructed magnetic resonance images.
RESULTS Subjects with schizophrenia had larger lateral ventricles than their relatives and the normal control subjects. Relatives who were 'presumed obligate carriers' had larger left lateral ventricles than other relatives and the control subjects. Subjects with schizophrenia showed smaller whole brain and cerebellar volumes and larger lateral ventricles than their age- and gender-matched unaffected siblings.
CONCLUSIONS In families multiply affected with schizophrenia lateral ventricular enlargement distinguishes people with schizophrenia and presumed obligate carriers from other relatives and unrelated control subjects. These changes may be a marker for a genetic liability to schizophrenia.