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Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and schizophrenia spectrum disorders (SSDs), although conceptualized as separate entities, may share some clinical and neurobiological features. ASD symptoms may have a relevant role in determining a more severe clinical presentation of schizophrenic disorder but their relationships with cognitive aspects and functional outcomes of the disease remain to be addressed in large samples of individuals.
To investigate the clinical, cognitive, and functional correlates of ASD symptoms in a large sample of people diagnosed with schizophrenia.
The severity of ASD symptoms was measured with the PANSS Autism Severity Scale (PAUSS) in 921 individuals recruited for the Italian Network for Research on Psychoses multicenter study. Based on the PAUSS scores, three groups of subjects were compared on a wide array of cognitive and functional measures.
Subjects with more severe ASD symptoms showed a poorer performance in the processing speed (p = 0.010), attention (p = 0.011), verbal memory (p = 0.035), and social cognition (p = 0.001) domains, and an overall lower global cognitive composite score (p = 0.010). Subjects with more severe ASD symptoms also showed poorer functional capacity (p = 0.004), real-world interpersonal relationships (p < 0.001), and participation in community-living activities (p < 0.001).
These findings strengthen the notion that ASD symptoms may have a relevant impact on different aspects of the disease, crucial to the life of people with schizophrenia. Prominent ASD symptoms may characterize a specific subpopulation of individuals with SSD.
Positive symptoms are a useful predictor of aggression in schizophrenia. Although a similar pattern of abnormal brain structures related to both positive symptoms and aggression has been reported, this observation has not yet been confirmed in a single sample.
To study the association between positive symptoms and aggression in schizophrenia on a neurobiological level, a prospective meta-analytic approach was employed to analyze harmonized structural neuroimaging data from 10 research centers worldwide. We analyzed brain MRI scans from 902 individuals with a primary diagnosis of schizophrenia and 952 healthy controls.
The result identified a widespread cortical thickness reduction in schizophrenia compared to their controls. Two separate meta-regression analyses revealed that a common pattern of reduced cortical gray matter thickness within the left lateral temporal lobe and right midcingulate cortex was significantly associated with both positive symptoms and aggression.
These findings suggested that positive symptoms such as formal thought disorder and auditory misperception, combined with cognitive impairments reflecting difficulties in deploying an adaptive control toward perceived threats, could escalate the likelihood of aggression in schizophrenia.
Previous models suggest biological and behavioral continua among healthy individuals (HC), at-risk condition, and full-blown schizophrenia (SCZ). Part of these continua may be captured by schizotypy, which shares subclinical traits and biological phenotypes with SCZ, including thalamic structural abnormalities. In this regard, previous findings have suggested that multivariate volumetric patterns of individual thalamic nuclei discriminate HC from SCZ. These results were obtained using machine learning, which allows case–control classification at the single-subject level. However, machine learning accuracy is usually unsatisfactory possibly due to phenotype heterogeneity. Indeed, a source of misclassification may be related to thalamic structural characteristics of those HC with high schizotypy, which may resemble structural abnormalities of SCZ. We hypothesized that thalamic structural heterogeneity is related to schizotypy, such that high schizotypal burden would implicate misclassification of those HC whose thalamic patterns resemble SCZ abnormalities.
Following a previous report, we used Random Forests to predict diagnosis in a case–control sample (SCZ = 131, HC = 255) based on thalamic nuclei gray matter volumes estimates. Then, we investigated whether the likelihood to be classified as SCZ (π-SCZ) was associated with schizotypy in 174 HC, evaluated with the Schizotypal Personality Questionnaire.
Prediction accuracy was 72.5%. Misclassified HC had higher positive schizotypy scores, which were correlated with π-SCZ. Results were specific to thalamic rather than whole-brain structural features.
These findings strengthen the relevance of thalamic structural abnormalities to SCZ and suggest that multivariate thalamic patterns are correlates of the continuum between schizotypy in HC and the full-blown disease.
This chapter deals with the developmental theories of schizophrenia to provide a foundation for a discussion of functional brain imaging studies of childhood-onset schizophrenia. Neurochemical brain imaging methodologies have permitted testing of the dopamine hypothesis of schizophrenia. Clinical studies have demonstrated prominent premorbid developmental delays in childhood-onset schizophrenia, especially in the areas of speech and language. Neurobiologic studies of the NIMH childhood-onset schizophrenia sample have generally supported neurobiologic continuity between childhood- and adult-onset schizophrenia. Very few functional brain imaging studies have been conducted in patients with childhood-onset schizophrenia. The only study of cerebral glucose metabolism in childhood-onset schizophrenia has been conducted with a subset of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) childhood-onset schizophrenia sample. The finding of cerebellar hypermetabolism in childhood-onset schizophrenia, seen with both data analytic approaches, is notable in light of recent evidence implicating the cerebellum in higher cortical processes.