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Pituitary volume enlargements have been observed among individuals with first-episode psychosis. These abnormalities are suggestive of hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis hyperactivity, which may contribute to the development of psychosis. However, the extent to which these abnormalities characterize individuals at elevated risk for schizophrenia prior to illness onset is currently unclear, as volume increases, decreases and no volume differences have all been reported relative to controls. The current study aimed to determine whether antipsychotic-naive, putatively at-risk children who present multiple antecedents of schizophrenia (ASz) or a family history of illness (FHx) show pituitary volume abnormalities relative to typically developing (TD) children. An additional aim was to explore the association between pituitary volume and experiences of psychosocial stress.
ASz (n = 30), FHx (n = 22) and TD (n = 32) children were identified at age 9–12 years using a novel community-screening procedure or as relatives of individuals with schizophrenia. Measures of pituitary volume and psychosocial stress were obtained at age 11–14 years.
Neither ASz nor FHx children showed differences in pituitary volume relative to TD children. Among FHx children only, pituitary volume was negatively associated with current distress relating to negative life events and exposure to physical punishment.
The lack of pituitary volume abnormalities among ASz and FHx children is consistent with our previous work demonstrating that these children are not characterized by elevated diurnal cortisol levels. The findings imply that these biological markers of HPA axis hyperactivity, observed in some older samples of high-risk individuals, may emerge later, more proximally to disease onset.
The relationship between cannabis use and cognitive functioning in patients with psychosis has yielded contradictory findings. In individuals at genetic high risk for psychosis, information is sparse. The aim of this study was to assess the association between recency and frequency of cannabis use and cognitive functioning in patients with psychosis and their unaffected siblings.
We conducted a cross-sectional study in 956 patients with non-affective psychosis, 953 unaffected siblings, and 554 control subjects. Participants completed a cognitive test battery including assessments of verbal learning, set shifting, sustained attention, processing speed, working memory, acquired knowledge, reasoning and problem solving and social cognition. Cannabis use was assessed by urinalysis and by the Composite International Diagnostic Interview. Using random-effect regression models the main effects of cannabis (recency and frequency) and the interaction with status (patient, sibling, control) on cognitive functioning were assessed.
Current cannabis use was associated with poorer performance on immediate verbal learning, processing speed and working memory (Cohen's d −0.20 to −0.33, p<0.005). Lifetime cannabis use was associated with better performance on acquired knowledge, facial affect recognition and face identity recognition (Cohen's d+0.17 to +0.33, p<0.005). There was no significant interaction between cannabis and status on cognitive functioning.
Lifetime cannabis-using individuals might constitute a subgroup with a higher cognitive potential. The residual effects of cannabis may impair short-term memory and processing speed.
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