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Aberrant anticipation of motivational salient events and processing of outcome evaluation in striatal and prefrontal regions have been suggested to underlie psychosis. Altered glutamate levels have likewise been linked to schizophrenia. Glutamatergic abnormalities may affect the processing of motivational salience and outcome evaluation. It remains unresolved, whether glutamatergic dysfunction is associated with the coding of motivational salience and outcome evaluation in antipsychotic-naïve patients with first-episode psychosis.
Fifty-one antipsychotic-naïve patients with first-episode psychosis (22 ± 5.2 years, female/male: 31/20) and 52 healthy controls (HC) matched on age, sex, and parental education underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging and magnetic resonance spectroscopy (3T) in one session. Brain responses to motivational salience and negative outcome evaluation (NOE) were examined using a monetary incentive delay task. Glutamate levels were estimated in the left thalamus and anterior cingulate cortex using LCModel.
Patients displayed a positive signal change to NOE in the caudate (p = 0.001) and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC; p = 0.003) compared to HC. No group difference was observed in motivational salience or in levels of glutamate. There was a different association between NOE signal in the caudate and DLPFC and thalamic glutamate levels in patients and HC due to a negative correlation in patients (caudate: p = 0.004, DLPFC: p = 0.005) that was not seen in HC.
Our findings confirm prior findings of abnormal outcome evaluation as a part of the pathophysiology of schizophrenia. The results also suggest a possible link between thalamic glutamate and NOE signaling in patients with first-episode psychosis.
The typical onset of schizophrenia coincides with the maturational peak in cognition; however, for a significant proportion of patients the onset is before age 18 and after age 30 years. While cognitive deficits are considered core features of schizophrenia, few studies have directly examined the impact of age of illness onset on cognition.
The aim of the study was to examine if the effects of age on cognition differ between healthy controls (HCs) and patients with schizophrenia at illness onset. We examined 156 first-episode antipsychotic-naïve patients across a wide age span (12–43 years), and 161 age- and sex-matched HCs. Diagnoses were made according to ICD-10 criteria. Cognition was assessed using the Brief Assessment of Cognition in Schizophrenia (BACS), and IQ was estimated using subtests from the Wechsler adult- or child-intelligence scales. Multivariate analysis of covariance (MANCOVA) was used to examine linear and quadratic effects of age on cognitive scores and interactions by group, including sex and parental socioeconomic status as covariates.
There was a significant overall effect of age on BACS and IQ (p < 0.001). Significant group-by-age interactions for verbal memory (for age-squared, p = 0.009), and digit sequencing (for age, p = 0.01; age-squared, p < 0.001), indicated differential age-related trajectories between patients and HCs.
Cognitive functions showing protracted maturation into adulthood, such as verbal memory and verbal working memory, may be particularly impaired in both early- and late-schizophrenia onset. Our findings indicate a potential interaction between the timing of neurodevelopmental maturation and a possible premature age effect in late-onset schizophrenia.
Poor response to dopaminergic antipsychotics constitutes a major challenge in the treatment of psychotic disorders and markers for non-response during first-episode are warranted. Previous studies have found increased levels of glutamate and γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in non-responding first-episode patients compared to responders, but it is unknown if non-responders can be identified using reference levels from healthy controls (HCs).
Thirty-nine antipsychotic-naïve patients with first-episode psychosis and 36 matched HCs underwent repeated assessments with the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale and 3T magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Glutamate scaled to total creatine (/Cr) was measured in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and left thalamus, and levels of GABA/Cr were measured in ACC. After 6 weeks, we re-examined 32 patients on aripiprazole monotherapy and 35 HCs, and after 26 weeks we re-examined 30 patients on naturalistic antipsychotic treatment and 32 HCs. The Andreasen criteria defined non-response.
Before treatment, thalamic glutamate/Cr was higher in the whole group of patients but levels normalized after treatment. ACC levels of glutamate/Cr and GABA/Cr were lower at all assessments and unaffected by treatment. When compared with HCs, non-responders at week 6 (19 patients) and week 26 (16 patients) had higher baseline glutamate/Cr in the thalamus. Moreover, non-responders at 26 weeks had lower baseline GABA/Cr in ACC. Baseline levels in responders and HCs did not differ.
Glutamatergic and GABAergic abnormalities in antipsychotic-naïve patients appear driven by non-responders to antipsychotic treatment. If replicated, normative reference levels for glutamate and GABA may aid estimation of clinical prognosis in first-episode psychosis patients.
Schizophrenia has been associated with changes in both cortical thickness and surface area, but antipsychotic exposure, illness progression and substance use may confound observations. In antipsychotic-naïve schizophrenia patients, we investigated cortical thickness and surface area as well as mean curvature before and after monotherapy with amisulpride, a relatively selective dopamine D2/3 receptor antagonist.
Fifty-six patients and 59 matched healthy controls (HCs) underwent T1-weighted 3T magnetic resonance imaging. Forty-one patients and 51 HCs were re-scanned. FreeSurfer-processed baseline, follow-up values and symmetrized percentage changes (SPC) in cortical structures were analysed using univariate analysis of variance. Clinical measures comprised psychopathology ratings, assessment of functioning and tests of premorbid and current intelligence. We applied false discovery rate correction to account for multiple comparisons.
At baseline, groups did not differ in cortical thickness or surface area; however, curvature in the left hemisphere was higher in patients (p = 0.015). In both patients and HCs, higher curvature was associated with lower premorbid (p = 0.009) and current intelligence (p < 0.001). Lower surface area was associated with lower premorbid intelligence (p = 0.017). After 6 weeks, the cortical structures did not differ between groups. Amisulpride dose (275.0 mg/day) did not correlate with any cortical structures (p > 0.43). Cortical thickness SPC was negatively associated with symptom improvement (p = 0.002).
Schizophrenia appears associated with subtle, yet clinically relevant aberrations in cortical structures. Mean curvature holds promise as a sensitive supplement to cortical thickness and surface area to detect complex structural brain abnormalities.
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