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Autistic symptoms represent a frequent feature in schizophrenia spectrum disorders (SSD). However, the prevalence and the cognitive and functional correlates of autistic symptoms in unaffected first-degree relatives of people with SSD remain to be assessed.
A total of 342 unaffected first-degree relatives related to 247 outpatients with schizophrenia were recruited as part of the multicenter study of the Italian Network for Research on Psychoses (NIRP). Autistic features were measured with the PANSS Autism Severity Scale. Three groups of participants, defined on the presence and severity of autistic symptoms, were compared on a wide array of cognitive and functional measures.
Of the total sample, 44.9% presented autistic symptoms; 22.8% showed moderate levels of autistic symptoms, which can be observed in the majority of people with SSD. Participants with higher levels of autistic symptoms showed worse performance on Working Memory (p = 0.014) and Social Cognition (p = 0.025) domains and in the Global Cognition composite score (p = 0.008), as well as worse on functional capacity (p = 0.001), global psychosocial functioning (p < 0.001), real-world interpersonal relationships (p < 0.001), participation in community activities (p = 0.017), and work skills (p = 0.006).
A high prevalence of autistic symptoms was observed in first-degree relatives of people with SSD. Autistic symptoms severity showed a negative correlation with cognitive performance and functional outcomes also in this population and may represent a diagnostic and treatment target of considerable scientific and clinical interest in both patients and their first-degree relatives.
Different electrophysiological (EEG) indices have been investigated as possible biomarkers of schizophrenia. However, these indices have a very limited use in clinical practice, as their associations with clinical and functional outcomes remain unclear. This study aimed to investigate the associations of multiple EEG markers with clinical variables and functional outcomes in subjects with schizophrenia (SCZs).
Resting-state EEGs (frequency bands and microstates) and auditory event-related potentials (MMN-P3a and N100-P3b) were recorded in 113 SCZs and 57 healthy controls (HCs) at baseline. Illness- and functioning-related variables were assessed both at baseline and at 4-year follow-up in 61 SCZs. We generated a machine-learning classifier for each EEG parameter (frequency bands, microstates, N100-P300 task, and MMN-P3a task) to identify potential markers discriminating SCZs from HCs, and a global classifier. Associations of the classifiers’ decision scores with illness- and functioning-related variables at baseline and follow-up were then investigated.
The global classifier discriminated SCZs from HCs with an accuracy of 75.4% and its decision scores significantly correlated with negative symptoms, depression, neurocognition, and real-life functioning at 4-year follow-up.
These results suggest that a combination of multiple EEG alterations is associated with poor functional outcomes and its clinical and cognitive determinants in SCZs. These findings need replication, possibly looking at different illness stages in order to implement EEG as a possible tool for the prediction of poor functional outcome.
The aim of this study was to assess barriers and facilitators in the pathways toward specialist care for eating disorders (EDs).
Eleven ED services located in seven European countries recruited patients with an ED. Clinicians administered an adapted version of the World Health Organization “Encounter Form,” a standardized tool to assess the pathways to care. The unadjusted overall time needed to access the ED unit was described using the Kaplan–Meier curve.
Four-hundred-nine patients were recruited. The median time between the onset of the current ED episode and the access to a specialized ED care was 2 years. Most of the participants did not directly access the specialist ED unit: primary “points of access” to care were mental health professionals and general practitioners. The involvement of different health professionals in the pathway, seeking help for general psychiatric symptoms, and lack of support from family members were associated with delayed access to ED units.
Educational programs aiming to promote early diagnosis and treatment for EDs should pay particular attention to general practitioners, in addition to mental health professionals, and family members to increase awareness of these illnesses and of their treatment initiation process.
Deficits in social cognition (SC) are significantly related to community functioning in schizophrenia (SZ). Few studies investigated longitudinal changes in SC and its impact on recovery. In the present study, we aimed: (a) to estimate the magnitude and clinical significance of SC change in outpatients with stable SZ who were assessed at baseline and after 4 years, (b) to identify predictors of reliable and clinically significant change (RCSC), and (c) to determine whether changes in SC over 4 years predicted patient recovery at follow-up.
The reliable change index was used to estimate the proportion of true change in SC, not attributable to measurement error. Stepwise multiple logistic regression models were used to identify the predictors of RCSC in a SC domain (The Awareness of Social Inference Test [TASIT]) and the effect of change in TASIT on recovery at follow-up.
In 548 participants, statistically significant improvements were found for the simple and paradoxical sarcasm of TASIT scale, and for the total score of section 2. The reliable change index was 9.8. A cut-off of 45 identified patients showing clinically significant change. Reliable change was achieved by 12.6% and RCSC by 8% of participants. Lower baseline TASIT sect. 2 score predicted reliable improvement on TASIT sect. 2. Improvement in TASIT sect. 2 scores predicted functional recovery, with a 10-point change predicting 40% increase in the probability of recovery.
The RCSC index provides a conservative way to assess the improvement in the ability to grasp sarcasm in SZ, and is associated with recovery.
Resilience is defined as the ability to modify thoughts to cope with stressful events. Patients with schizophrenia (SCZ) having higher resilience (HR) levels show less severe symptoms and better real-life functioning. However, the clinical factors contributing to determine resilience levels in patients remain unclear. Thus, based on psychological, historical, clinical and environmental variables, we built a supervised machine learning algorithm to classify patients with HR or lower resilience (LR).
SCZ from the Italian Network for Research on Psychoses (N = 598 in the Discovery sample, N = 298 in the Validation sample) underwent historical, clinical, psychological, environmental and resilience assessments. A Support Vector Machine algorithm (based on 85 variables extracted from the above-mentioned assessments) was built in the Discovery sample, and replicated in the Validation sample, to classify between HR and LR patients, within a nested, Leave-Site-Out Cross-Validation framework. We then investigated whether algorithm decision scores were associated with the cognitive and clinical characteristics of patients.
The algorithm classified patients as HR or LR with a Balanced Accuracy of 74.5% (p < 0.0001) in the Discovery sample, and 80.2% in the Validation sample. Higher self-esteem, larger social network and use of adaptive coping strategies were the variables most frequently chosen by the algorithm to generate decisions. Correlations between algorithm decision scores, socio-cognitive abilities, and symptom severity were significant (pFDR < 0.05).
We identified an accurate, meaningful and generalizable clinical-psychological signature associated with resilience in SCZ. This study delivers relevant information regarding psychological and clinical factors that non-pharmacological interventions could target in schizophrenia.
Response to lithium in patients with bipolar disorder is associated with clinical and transdiagnostic genetic factors. The predictive combination of these variables might help clinicians better predict which patients will respond to lithium treatment.
To use a combination of transdiagnostic genetic and clinical factors to predict lithium response in patients with bipolar disorder.
This study utilised genetic and clinical data (n = 1034) collected as part of the International Consortium on Lithium Genetics (ConLi+Gen) project. Polygenic risk scores (PRS) were computed for schizophrenia and major depressive disorder, and then combined with clinical variables using a cross-validated machine-learning regression approach. Unimodal, multimodal and genetically stratified models were trained and validated using ridge, elastic net and random forest regression on 692 patients with bipolar disorder from ten study sites using leave-site-out cross-validation. All models were then tested on an independent test set of 342 patients. The best performing models were then tested in a classification framework.
The best performing linear model explained 5.1% (P = 0.0001) of variance in lithium response and was composed of clinical variables, PRS variables and interaction terms between them. The best performing non-linear model used only clinical variables and explained 8.1% (P = 0.0001) of variance in lithium response. A priori genomic stratification improved non-linear model performance to 13.7% (P = 0.0001) and improved the binary classification of lithium response. This model stratified patients based on their meta-polygenic loadings for major depressive disorder and schizophrenia and was then trained using clinical data.
Using PRS to first stratify patients genetically and then train machine-learning models with clinical predictors led to large improvements in lithium response prediction. When used with other PRS and biological markers in the future this approach may help inform which patients are most likely to respond to lithium treatment.
Studying phenotypic and genetic characteristics of age at onset (AAO) and polarity at onset (PAO) in bipolar disorder can provide new insights into disease pathology and facilitate the development of screening tools.
To examine the genetic architecture of AAO and PAO and their association with bipolar disorder disease characteristics.
Genome-wide association studies (GWASs) and polygenic score (PGS) analyses of AAO (n = 12 977) and PAO (n = 6773) were conducted in patients with bipolar disorder from 34 cohorts and a replication sample (n = 2237). The association of onset with disease characteristics was investigated in two of these cohorts.
Earlier AAO was associated with a higher probability of psychotic symptoms, suicidality, lower educational attainment, not living together and fewer episodes. Depressive onset correlated with suicidality and manic onset correlated with delusions and manic episodes. Systematic differences in AAO between cohorts and continents of origin were observed. This was also reflected in single-nucleotide variant-based heritability estimates, with higher heritabilities for stricter onset definitions. Increased PGS for autism spectrum disorder (β = −0.34 years, s.e. = 0.08), major depression (β = −0.34 years, s.e. = 0.08), schizophrenia (β = −0.39 years, s.e. = 0.08), and educational attainment (β = −0.31 years, s.e. = 0.08) were associated with an earlier AAO. The AAO GWAS identified one significant locus, but this finding did not replicate. Neither GWAS nor PGS analyses yielded significant associations with PAO.
AAO and PAO are associated with indicators of bipolar disorder severity. Individuals with an earlier onset show an increased polygenic liability for a broad spectrum of psychiatric traits. Systematic differences in AAO across cohorts, continents and phenotype definitions introduce significant heterogeneity, affecting analyses.
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.
Greater levels of insight may be linked with depressive symptoms among patients with schizophrenia, however, it would be useful to characterize this association at symptom-level, in order to inform research on interventions.
Data on depressive symptoms (Calgary Depression Scale for Schizophrenia) and insight (G12 item from the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale) were obtained from 921 community-dwelling, clinically-stable individuals with a DSM-IV diagnosis of schizophrenia, recruited in a nationwide multicenter study. Network analysis was used to explore the most relevant connections between insight and depressive symptoms, including potential confounders in the model (neurocognitive and social-cognitive functioning, positive, negative and disorganization symptoms, extrapyramidal symptoms, hostility, internalized stigma, and perceived discrimination). Bayesian network analysis was used to estimate a directed acyclic graph (DAG) while investigating the most likely direction of the putative causal association between insight and depression.
After adjusting for confounders, better levels of insight were associated with greater self-depreciation, pathological guilt, morning depression and suicidal ideation. No difference in global network structure was detected for socioeconomic status, service engagement or illness severity. The DAG confirmed the presence of an association between greater insight and self-depreciation, suggesting the more probable causal direction was from insight to depressive symptoms.
In schizophrenia, better levels of insight may cause self-depreciation and, possibly, other depressive symptoms. Person-centered and narrative psychotherapeutic approaches may be particularly fit to improve patient insight without dampening self-esteem.
Childhood maltreatment (CM) is recognized as a non-specific risk factor for Eating Disorders (EDs), but the mechanisms explaining this association have been insufficiently assessed. We aim to explore the psychological pathways through which CM experiences promote ED core symptoms.
Two-hundred-twenty-eight people with EDs, 94 with anorexia nervosa restricting (ANR) type and 134 with binge-purging (BP) symptoms (including 23 with AN purging type and 111 with bulimia nervosa), completed the Eating Disorder Inventory-2, the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory and the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire. The variables provided by these questionnaires were included in a network analysis to identify the shortest pathways between CM nodes and ED core symptoms. Then mediation analysis was performed in order to confirm the mediation role of the nodes included in the shortest pathways from CM to ED core symptoms.
All types of CM experiences were connected to the ED psychopathology through emotional abuse. In the ANR group, interoceptive awareness was included in the shortest path between emotional abuse and drive to thinness and mediated this relationship. In the BP group, the shortest routes between CM and ED core symptoms included both ineffectiveness and interoceptive awareness.
Combining the network analysis approach with the mediation analyses provides for the first time a putative hybrid model, which reveals that all CM types converge towards ED symptoms through emotional abuse and that interoceptive awareness and ineffectiveness mediate these connections in people with ANR and BP symptoms, respectively. These findings may have possible implications for both research and treatment of EDs.
Leptin is an adipocyte-derived hormone, which is involved predominantly in the long-term regulation of body weight and energy balance by acting as a hunger suppressant signal to the brain. Leptin is also involved in the modulation of reproduction, immune function, physical activity, and some endogenous endocrine axes. Since anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN) are characterized by abnormal eating behaviors, dysregulation of endogenous endocrine axes, alterations of reproductive and immune functions, and increased physical activity, extensive research has been carried out in the last decade in order to ascertain a role of this hormone in the pathophysiology of these syndromes. In this article, we review the available data on leptin physiology in patients with eating disorders. These data support the idea that leptin is not directly involved in the etiology of AN or BN. However, malnutrition-induced alterations in its physiology may contribute to the genesis and/or the maintenance of some clinical manifestations of AN and BN and may have an impact on the prognosis of AN.
Background. Several lines of evidence indicate a role of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the modulation of eating behaviour. Therefore, alterations in the physiology of this neurotrophin may be involved in the pathogenesis of eating disorders. In the present study, we investigated serum levels of BDNF in patients with anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN) and binge-eating disorder (BED).
Method. Ninety-nine drug-free women (27 with AN, 24 with BN, 24 with BED and 24 healthy controls) underwent both a blood sample collection in the morning and diagnostic and psychopathological assessments by means of structured clinical interviews and ad-hoc rating scales. Serum levels of BDNF, 17β-oestradiol, FT3 and FT4 were measured.
Results. Compared to healthy controls, serum levels of BDNF were significantly reduced in underweight AN women and in normal weight BN women, but not in overweight BED women. Changes in circulating BDNF levels were not affected by the presence of co-morbid depressive disorders. No significant correlation emerged between neurotrophin concentrations and psychopathological, nutritional, demographic and hormonal variables.
Conclusions. These findings evidentiate alterations in serum BDNF levels in malnourished patients with AN or BN, but not in well-nourished individuals with BED. Since BDNF seems to exert a satiety effect, its reduction may represent an adaptive change to counteract the decreased calorie ingestion of AN and BN individuals.
Several studies have explored serotonin (5-HT) transmission in people with anorexia nervosa, but their results have been inconsistent.
According to a double-blind placebo-controlled design, plasma prolactin response to the specific serotonergic probe d-fenfluramine was investigated in 10 underweight and two normal-weight women with anorexia, and in 12 age-matched healthy females. Eating-related psychopathology, depressive and obsessive-compulsive symptoms, and aggressiveness were measured by appropriate rating scales.
Compared with healthy control subjects, the women with anorexia showed reduced baseline prolactin and oestrogen levels and increased basal Cortisol concentrations. The prolactin response to d-fenfluramine was blunted and did not correlate with psychopathological measures.
These results support a dysfunction of 5-HT transmission in anorexia nervosa. This dysfunction does not seem to be related to concomitant depressive or obsessive-compulsive symptoms or to the level of aggressiveness of the patients.
Although several studies have directly explored serotonin (5-HT) transmission in patients with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), their results have been inconsistent and their clinical relevance is doubtful
According to a double-blind placebo-controlled design, plasma prolactin (PRL) response to a specific serotonergic probe, d-fenfluramine, was measured in 20 drug-free obsessive compulsive patients and in 20 matched healthy controls. After the neuroendocrine test, 5 patients completed a lO-week treatment with fluvoxamine. Psychopathological assessment was performed before and after therapy.
PRL response in OCD patients was blunted under the drug-free condition; correlated inversely with pretreatment ratings of obsessive-compulsive and depressive symptomatology; and correlated inversely with the improvement in obsessive-compulsivescore observed after fluvoxamine treatment.
These results support the idea of a dysfunction of 5-HT transmission in OCD, and suggest that the greater this impairment, the better the response to drugs which selectively block the reuptake of 5-HT.
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