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Neurocognitive impairments robustly predict functional outcome. However, heterogeneity in neurocognition is common within diagnostic groups, and data-driven analyses reveal homogeneous neurocognitive subgroups cutting across diagnostic boundaries.
To determine whether data-driven neurocognitive subgroups of young people with emerging mental disorders are associated with 3-year functional course.
Model-based cluster analysis was applied to neurocognitive test scores across nine domains from 629 young people accessing mental health clinics. Cluster groups were compared on demographic, clinical and substance-use measures. Mixed-effects models explored associations between cluster-group membership and socio-occupational functioning (using the Social and Occupational Functioning Assessment Scale) over 3 years, adjusted for gender, premorbid IQ, level of education, depressive, positive, negative and manic symptoms, and diagnosis of a primary psychotic disorder.
Cluster analysis of neurocognitive test scores derived three subgroups described as ‘normal range’ (n = 243, 38.6%), ‘intermediate impairment’ (n = 252, 40.1%), and ‘global impairment’ (n = 134, 21.3%). The major mental disorder categories (depressive, anxiety, bipolar, psychotic and other) were represented in each neurocognitive subgroup. The global impairment subgroup had lower functioning for 3 years of follow-up; however, neither the global impairment (B = 0.26, 95% CI −0.67 to 1.20; P = 0.581) or intermediate impairment (B = 0.46, 95% CI −0.26 to 1.19; P = 0.211) subgroups differed from the normal range subgroup in their rate of change in functioning over time.
Neurocognitive impairment may follow a continuum of severity across the major syndrome-based mental disorders, with data-driven neurocognitive subgroups predictive of functional course. Of note, the global impairment subgroup had longstanding functional impairment despite continuing engagement with clinical services.
For over a decade a transdiagnostic clinical staging framework for youth with anxiety, mood and psychotic disorders (linked with measurement of multidimensional outcomes), has been utilised in over 8,000 young people presenting to the enhanced primary (headspace) and secondary care clinics of the Brain and Mind Centre of the University of Sydney. This framework has been evaluated alongside a broad range of other clinical, neurobiological, neuropsychological, brain imaging, circadian, metabolic, longitudinal cohort and controlled intervention studies. This has led to specific tests of its concurrent, discriminant and predictive validity. These extensive data provide strong preliminary evidence that: i) varying stages of illness are associated with predicted differences in a range of independent and objectively measured neuropsychological and other biomarkers (both cross-sectionally and longitudinally); and, ii) that earlier stages of illness progress at variable rates to later and more severe or persistent disorders. Importantly, approximately 15-20% of those young people classed as stage 1b or ‘attenuated’ syndromes at presentation progress to more severe or persistent disorders. Consequently, this cohort should be the focus of active secondary prevention trials. In clinical practice, we are moving to combine the staging framework with likely pathophysiological paths (e.g. neurodevelopmental-psychotic, anxiety-depression, circadian-bipolar) to underpin enhanced treatment selection.
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