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An increased reactivity to stress in the context of daily life is suggested to be an independent risk factor underlying the positive symptoms of psychotic disorder. The aim of this study was to investigate whether positive symptoms moderate the association between everyday stressful events and negative affect (NA), known as stress reactivity. This hypothesis was put to the test in patients with a diagnosis of psychotic disorder.
The Comprehensive Assessment of Symptoms and History (CASH) and the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS) were used to assess positive and negative symptoms. The experience sampling method (ESM), a structured diary technique, was used to measure stress reactivity and psychotic symptoms in daily life.
Higher levels of positive symptoms (CASH: B = 0.14, p = 0.005; PANSS: B = 0.05, p = 0.000; ESM: B = 0.03, p = 0.000) and lower levels of negative symptoms (PANSS: B = − 0.05, p = 0.001) significantly moderate the association between unpleasant events and NA. No significant moderating effect was found for CASH negative symptoms. Moreover, the moderating effect of lifetime and current symptoms on the stress–NA association was significantly larger for those patients with predominantly positive symptoms (CASH: B = 0.09, p = 0.000; PANSS: B = 0.08, p = 0.000; ESM: B = 0.13, p = 0.000).
Patients with a ‘psychotic syndrome’ with high levels of positive symptoms and low levels of negative symptoms show increased reactivity to stress in daily life, indicating that stress reactivity is a possible risk factor underlying this syndrome.
Reduced hippocampal size and increased stress sensitivity are associated with psychotic disorder and familial risk for psychosis. However, to what degree the hippocampus is implicated in daily life stress reactivity has not yet been examined. The current study investigated (i) whether familial risk (the contrast between controls, patients and siblings of patients) moderated the relationship between hippocampal volume (HV) and emotional daily stress reactivity and (ii) whether familial risk (the contrast between controls and siblings of patients) moderated the relationship between HV and cortisol daily stress reactivity.
T1-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans were acquired from 20 patients with schizophrenia, 37 healthy siblings with familial risk for schizophrenia and 32 controls. Freesurfer 5.0.0 was used to measure HV. The experience sampling method (ESM), a structured momentary assessment technique, was used to assess emotional stress reactivity, that is the effect of momentary stress on momentary negative affect (NA). In addition, in the control and sibling groups, cortisol stress reactivity was assessed using momentary cortisol levels extracted from saliva.
Multilevel linear regression analyses revealed a significant three-way interaction between group, HV and momentary stress in both the model of NA and the model of cortisol. Increased emotional stress reactivity was associated with smaller left HV in patients and larger total HV in controls. In line with the results in patients, siblings with small HV demonstrated increased emotional and cortisol stress reactivity compared to those with large HV.
HV may index risk and possibly disease-related mechanisms underlying daily life stress reactivity in psychotic disorder.
In 2005 Andreasen proposed criteria for remission in schizophrenia. It is
unclear whether these criteria reflect symptom reduction and improved
social functioning in daily life.
To investigate whether criteria for symptomatic remission reflect symptom
reduction and improved functioning in real life, comparing patients
meeting remission criteria, patients not meeting these criteria and
The Experience Sampling Method (ESM), a structured diary technique, was
used to explore real-life symptoms and functioning in 177 patients with
(remitted and non-remitted) schizophrenia spectrum disorders and 148
Of 177 patients, 70 met criteria for symptomatic remission. These
patients reported significantly fewer positive and negative symptoms and
better mood states compared with patients not in remission. Furthermore,
patients in remission spent more time in goal-directed activities and had
less preference for being alone when they were with others. However, the
patient groups did not differ on time spent in social company and doing
nothing, and both the remission and non-remission groups had lower scores
on functional outcome measures compared with the control group.
The study provides an ecological validation for the symptomatic remission
criteria, showing that patients who met the criteria reported fewer
positive symptoms, better mood states and partial recovery of reward
experience compared with those not in remission. However, remission
status was not related to functional recovery, suggesting that the
current focus on symptomatic remission may reflect an overly restricted
Hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis hyperactivity, associated with increased pituitary volume, may mediate observed alterations in stress reactivity in patients with psychotic disorder. We examined the association between pituitary volume, real-life stress reactivity and genetic liability for psychotic disorder.
Pituitary volumes were derived from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of 20 patients with psychotic disorder, 37 non-psychotic siblings of these patients, and 32 controls. The Experience Sampling Method (ESM) was used to measure emotional stress reactivity [changes in negative affect (NA) associated with daily life stress] in the three groups, and biological stress reactivity (changes in cortisol associated with daily life stress) in siblings and controls. Interactions between group, stress and pituitary volume in models of NA and cortisol were examined.
Groups did not differ in pituitary volume. Patients showed significantly higher emotional stress reactivity than siblings and controls. In addition, emotional stress reactivity increased with increasing pituitary volume to a greater degree in patients than in controls and siblings. Siblings had higher cortisol levels than controls but did not show increased cortisol reactivity to stress. There was no interaction between pituitary volume, stress and group in the model of cortisol.
Higher pituitary volume was associated with increased emotional stress reactivity in patients with psychotic disorder, siblings and controls. The association was significantly stronger in the patient group, suggesting a process of progressive sensitization mediating clinical outcome.
Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis abnormalities have been found in patients with a psychotic disorder and first-degree relatives of patients with a psychotic disorder react with subtle increases in non-clinical psychotic experiences and negative emotions in the face of everyday stress. The current study investigated whether HPA axis functioning is altered in individuals at above average genetic risk for psychotic disorder, examining diurnal cortisol profiles, cortisol reactivity to daily stressors and the association between HPA axis activity and subclinical psychotic experiences.
Participants included siblings of patients with a psychotic disorder (n=60) and a healthy comparison group (n=63). The Experience Sampling Method (a structured diary technique) was employed to assess stress, psychotic experiences, negative affect and salivary cortisol repeatedly in the flow of daily life.
Multi-level analyses revealed higher diurnal cortisol levels and heightened cortisol reactivity to negative daily events in siblings compared with controls. Diurnal cortisol slope did not differ between the two groups, but momentary increases in psychotic experiences and negative affect were associated with increased cortisol in the sibling group.
Findings support altered HPA axis activity in individuals at above average genetic risk for psychotic disorder, as evidenced by higher diurnal cortisol levels and increased cortisol reactivity to daily stress. Results also suggest a dynamic association between cortisol secretion and the intensity of psychotic-like experiences and negative emotions in daily life, although the direction of this association remains to be elucidated.