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Schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder associated with structural brain abnormalities already present at the onset of the illness. Whether these brain abnormalities might progress over time is still under debate.
The aim of this study was to investigate likely progressive brain volume changes in schizophrenia during the first 3 years after initiating antipsychotic treatment. The study included 109 patients with a schizophrenia spectrum disorder and a control group of 76 healthy subjects. Subjects received detailed clinical and cognitive assessment and structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at regular time points during a 3-year follow-up period. The effects of brain changes on cognitive and clinical variables were examined along with the impact of potential confounding factors.
Overall, patients and healthy controls exhibited a similar pattern of brain volume changes. However, patients showed a significant lower progressive decrease in the volume of the caudate nucleus than control subjects (F1,307.2 = 2.12, p = 0.035), with healthy subjects showing a greater reduction than patients during the follow-up period. Clinical and cognitive outcomes were not associated with progressive brain volume changes during the early years of the illness.
Brain volume abnormalities that have been consistently observed at the onset of non-affective psychosis may not inevitably progress, at least over the first years of the illness. Taking together with clinical and cognitive longitudinal data, our findings, showing a lack of brain deterioration in a substantial number of individuals, suggest a less pessimistic and more reassuring perception of the illness.
Trajectory patterns of positive, disorganized and negative dimension symptoms during antipsychotic treatment in drug-naive patients with first-episode psychosis have yet to be examined by using naturalistic data.
This pragmatic clinical trial randomized 161 drug-naive patients with a first episode of psychosis to olanzapine, risperidone or haloperidol. Patients were assessed with the Scale for the Assessment of Negative Symptoms (SANS) and Positive Symptoms (SAPS) at baseline and at the end of weeks 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 of antipsychotic treatment. Censored normal models of response trajectories were developed with three dimensions of the SAPS-SANS scores (positive, disorganized and negative) in order to identify the different response trajectories. Diagnosis, cannabis use, duration of untreated psychosis (DUP), smoking and antipsychotic class were examined as possible predictive variables.
Patients were classified in five groups according to the positive dimension, three groups according to the disorganized dimension and five groups according to the negative dimension. Longer DUPs and cannabis use were associated with higher scores and poorer responses in the positive dimension. Cannabis use was associated with higher scores and poorer responses in the disorganized dimension. Only schizophrenia diagnosis was associated with higher scores and poorer responses in the negative dimension.
Our results illustrate the heterogeneity of short-term response to antipsychotics in patients with a first episode of psychosis and highlight markedly different patterns of response in the positive, disorganized and negative dimensions. DUP, cannabis use and diagnosis appeared to have a prognostic value in predicting treatment response with different implications for each dimension.
The thickness of the cortical mantle is a sensitive measure for identifying alterations in cortical structure. We aimed to explore whether first episode schizophrenia patients already show a significant cortical thinning and whether cortical thickness anomalies may significantly influence clinical and cognitive features.
We investigated regional changes in cortical thickness in a large and heterogeneous sample of schizophrenia spectrum patients (n=142) at their first break of the illness and healthy controls (n=83). Magnetic resonance imaging brain scans (1.5 T) were obtained and images were analyzed by using brains2. The contribution of sociodemographic, cognitive and clinical characterictics was investigated.
Patients showed a significant total cortical thinning (F=17.55, d=−0.62, p<0.001) and there was a diffuse pattern of reduced thickness (encompassing frontal, temporal and parietal cortices) (all p's<0.001, d's>0.53). No significant group×gender interactions were observed (all p's>0.15). There were no significant associations between the clinical and pre-morbid variables and cortical thickness measurements (all r's<0.12). A weak significant negative correlation between attention and total (r=−0.24, p=0.021) and parietal cortical thickness (r=−0.27, p=0.009) was found in patients (thicker cortex was associated with lower attention). Our data revealed a similar pattern of cortical thickness changes related to age in patients and controls.
Cortical thinning is independent of gender, age, age of onset and duration of the illness and does not seem to significantly influence clinical and functional symptomatology. These findings support a primary neurodevelopment disorder affecting the normal cerebral cortex development in schizophrenia.
It has become widely accepted that cognitive deficits in schizophrenia are related to functional outcome. However, it remains to be seen whether these associations are relevant for predicting which cases will have a global functional recovery. In this study, we attempt to determine whether global functional recovery (integrating social and occupational outcomes) after first-episode schizophrenia (FES) can be predicted by cognitive variables.
A total of 131 FES patients with functional deficits (n=97) and functional recovery (n=34) as determined at 1-year follow-up were examined. Neuropsychological, sociodemographic, pre-morbid and clinical data at baseline were analysed using independent groups comparisons and a logistic regression method.
Sustained attention and negative symptoms emerged as significant predictors of good global functional outcome. Although the model revealed a high accuracy (91%) in the classification of patients with functional deficits, it was unacceptably low (26%) in the classification of patients with global functional recovery.
The limitations found in the prediction of a favourable global functional outcome may well be an indication for a need to address the role of other factors not commonly included in longitudinal studies of long-term outcomes in schizophrenia.
Cannabis use appears to be a risk factor for schizophrenia. Moreover, cannabis abusers show impaired decision-making capacities, linked to the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). Although there is substantial evidence that first-episode schizophrenia patients show impairments in cognitive tasks associated with the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), it is not clear whether decision making is impaired at schizophrenia onset. In this study, we examined the association between antecedents of cannabis abuse and cognitive impairment in cognitive tasks associated with the DLPFC and the OFC in a sample of first-episode patients with schizophrenia-spectrum disorders.
One hundred and thirty-two patients experiencing their first episode of a schizophrenia-spectrum psychosis were assessed with a cognitive battery including DLPFC-related tasks [backward digits, verbal fluency (FAS) and the Trail Making Test (TMT)] and an OFC-related task [the Iowa Gambling Task (GT)]. Performance on these tasks was compared between patients who had and had not abused cannabis before their psychosis onset.
No differences were observed between the two groups on the performance of any of the DLPFC-related tasks. However, patients who had abused cannabis before their psychosis onset showed a poorer total performance on the gambling task and a lower improvement on the performance of the task compared to no-abusers.
Pre-psychotic cannabis abuse is associated with decision-making impairment, but not working memory and executive function impairment, among first-episode patients with a schizophrenia-spectrum psychosis. Further studies are needed to examine the direction of causality of this impairment; that is, does the impairment make the patients abuse cannabis, or does cannabis abuse cause the impairment?
Predicting cognitive deficits in early psychosis may well be crucial to identify those individuals most in need of receiving intensive intervention. As yet, however, the identification of potential pretreatment predictors for cognitive performance has been hampered by inconsistent findings across studies. We aimed to examine the associations of functional and clinical pretreatment variables with cognitive functioning after a first psychotic episode.
One hundred and thirty-one patients experiencing first-episode psychosis were assessed for psychopathology, pre-morbid functioning, duration of illness, age of onset, and family history of psychosis and neurocognitive functioning. Multiple regression analyses were conducted for six basic cognitive dimensions known to be affected in this population: verbal learning, verbal memory, verbal comprehensive abilities, executive functioning, motor dexterity and sustained attention.
Pre-morbid functioning was the main predictor for five out of the six basic cognitive domains. Pre-morbid social adjustment difficulties were associated with worse performance in executive functioning, motor dexterity and sustained attention. Academic functioning was associated with verbal comprehension, and verbal learning and memory. Gender, age of onset, duration of untreated psychosis, and family history of psychosis had no or limited value as predictors of neurocognitive outcome.
Poor pre-morbid functioning was related to a worse performance in the six basic cognitive dimensions evaluated; however, this accounted for only a small amount of the explained variance. Cognitive impairment is a prominent feature in patients with early psychosis regardless of favorable prognostic features such as short duration of illness, female gender, later age of onset, and non-family history of psychosis.
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