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Loss of cortical volume in frontotemporal regions occurs in patients with first-episode psychosis (FEP) and longitudinal studies have reported progressive brain volume changes at different stages of the disease, even if cognitive deficits remain stable over time. We investigated cortical changes in patients over the 2 years following their FEP and their associations with clinical and cognitive measures.
Twenty-seven patients after their FEP (20 with schizophrenia, seven with schizo-affective disorder) and 25 healthy controls matched for age and gender participated in this study. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was performed on a 1.5-T scanner both at baseline and after 2 years. Area and thickness of the cortex were measured using surface-based morphometry (SBM). Patients also underwent neuropsychological testing at these two time points.
Progressive cortical thinning in the superior and inferior frontal and, to a lesser extent, superior temporal cortex was observed in patients. Cortical area remained constant. Cortical thinning was associated with duration of treatment at a trend level and was predicted by baseline measures of IQ and working memory. Cortical thinning occurred in the absence of clinical or cognitive deterioration.
The clinical implications of these cortical changes remain uncertain, but patients with less cognitive reserve may be more vulnerable to developing cortical abnormalities when exposed to medication or other disease-related biological factors.
To investigate the reasons behind difficulties in recruiting patients to randomized controlled trials (RCTs) in psychiatry and to examine a database of RCTs for differences between studies in mental health and other specialities.
A discussion of recent changes in research governance in the UK and Europe followed by an examination of the database of all trials supported by the Health Technology Assessment programme of the National Institute of Health Research in the UK between 1993 and 2007 to determine if three different measures, (i) time between grant approval and study start date, (ii) percentage of additional time given to extend recruitment and (iii) percentage of planned recruitment achieved, changed over the time period studied and differed between mental health, cancer and other medical disciplines.
Despite attempts in the UK to accelerate the process of clinical trials in recent years, there was a significant increase in the extension time for trials to be completed (p = 0.038) and the percentage of planned recruitment to mental health studies (71%) was significantly less than for cancer (90.3%) and other studies (86.1%) (p = 0.032).
These results suggest that, despite the priority afforded to the advancement of RCTs in healthcare, such studies are encountering increasing difficulty in recruiting to time and target. We suggest that this difficulty can be attributed, at least in part, to the excessively byzantine regulation and governance processes for health research in the UK, and unnecessary bureaucracy in the current National Health Service system. Mental health studies appear particularly vulnerable to delay and better systems to facilitate recruitment are required urgently for the evidence base to be improved and facilitate new cost-effective interventions.
Verbal memory is frequently and severely affected in schizophrenia and has been implicated as a mediator of poor clinical outcome. Whereas encoding deficits are well demonstrated, it is unclear whether retention is impaired. This distinction is important because accelerated forgetting implies impaired consolidation attributable to medial temporal lobe (MTL) dysfunction whereas impaired encoding and retrieval implicates involvement of prefrontal cortex.
We assessed a group of healthy volunteers (n=97) and pre-morbid IQ- and sex-matched first-episode psychosis patients (n=97), the majority of whom developed schizophrenia. We compared performance of verbal learning and recall with measures of visuospatial working memory, planning and attentional set-shifting, and also current IQ.
All measures of performance, including verbal memory retention, a memory savings score that accounted for learning impairments, were significantly impaired in the schizophrenia group. The difference between groups for delayed recall remained even after the influence of learning and recall was accounted for. Factor analyses showed that, in patients, all variables except verbal memory retention loaded on a single factor, whereas in controls verbal memory and fronto-executive measures were separable.
The results suggest that IQ, executive function and verbal learning deficits in schizophrenia may reflect a common abnormality of information processing in prefrontal cortex rather than specific impairments in different cognitive domains. Verbal memory retention impairments, however, may have a different aetiology.
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