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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.
Two prominent risk factors for major depressive disorder (MDD) are childhood maltreatment (CM) and familial risk for MDD. Despite having these risk factors, there are individuals who maintain mental health, i.e. are resilient, whereas others develop MDD. It is unclear which brain morphological alterations are associated with this kind of resilience. Interaction analyses of risk and diagnosis status are needed that can account for complex adaptation processes, to identify neural correlates of resilience.
We analyzed brain structural data (3T magnetic resonance imaging) by means of voxel-based morphometry (CAT12 toolbox), using a 2 × 2 design, comparing four groups (N = 804) that differed in diagnosis (healthy v. MDD) and risk profiles (low-risk, i.e. absence of CM and familial risk v. high-risk, i.e. presence of both CM and familial risk). Using regions of interest (ROIs) from the literature, we conducted an interaction analysis of risk and diagnosis status.
Volume in the left middle frontal gyrus (MFG), part of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), was significantly higher in healthy high-risk individuals. There were no significant results for the bilateral superior frontal gyri, frontal poles, pars orbitalis of the inferior frontal gyri, and the right MFG.
The healthy high-risk group had significantly higher volumes in the left DLPFC compared to all other groups. The DLPFC is implicated in cognitive and emotional processes, and higher volume in this area might aid high-risk individuals in adaptive coping in order to maintain mental health. This increased volume might therefore constitute a neural correlate of resilience to MDD in high risk.
MRI-derived cortical folding measures are an indicator of largely genetically driven early developmental processes. However, the effects of genetic risk for major mental disorders on early brain development are not well understood.
We extracted cortical complexity values from structural MRI data of 580 healthy participants using the CAT12 toolbox. Polygenic risk scores (PRS) for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, and cross-disorder (incorporating cumulative genetic risk for depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) were computed and used in separate general linear models with cortical complexity as the regressand. In brain regions that showed a significant association between polygenic risk for mental disorders and cortical complexity, volume of interest (VOI)/region of interest (ROI) analyses were conducted to investigate additional changes in their volume and cortical thickness.
The PRS for depression was associated with cortical complexity in the right orbitofrontal cortex (right hemisphere: p = 0.006). A subsequent VOI/ROI analysis showed no association between polygenic risk for depression and either grey matter volume or cortical thickness. We found no associations between cortical complexity and polygenic risk for either schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or psychiatric cross-disorder when correcting for multiple testing.
Changes in cortical complexity associated with polygenic risk for depression might facilitate well-established volume changes in orbitofrontal cortices in depression. Despite the absence of psychopathology, changed cortical complexity that parallels polygenic risk for depression might also change reward systems, which are also structurally affected in patients with depressive syndrome.
Previous case–control studies of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) have identified altered brain structure such as altered frontal and temporal cortex volumes, or decreased fractional anisotropy (FA) within the inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus in patients. It remains unclear whether subclinical autistic-like traits might also be related to variation in these brain structures.
In this study, we analyzed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data of 250 psychiatrically healthy subjects phenotyped for subclinical autistic-like traits using the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ). For data analysis, we used voxel-based morphometry of T1-MRIs (Computational Anatomy Toolbox) and tract-based spatial statistics for diffusion tensor imaging data.
AQ attention switching subscale correlated negatively with FA values in the bilateral uncinate fasciculus as well as the bilateral inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus. Higher AQ attention switching subscale scores were associated with increased mean diffusivity and radial diffusivity values in the uncinate fasciculus, while axial diffusivity values within this tract show a negative correlation. AQ attention to detail subscale correlated positively with gray matter volume in the right pre- and postcentral gyrus.
We demonstrate that individuals with higher levels of autism-spectrum-like features show decreased white matter integrity in tracts associated with higher-level visual processing and increased cortical volume in areas linked to movement sequencing and working memory. Our results resemble regional brain structure alterations found in individuals with ASD. This offers opportunities to further understand the etiology and pathogenesis of the disorder and shows a subclinical continuum perspective.
Eighty percent of all patients suffering from major depressive disorder (MDD) relapse at least once in their lifetime. Thus, understanding the neurobiological underpinnings of the course of MDD is of utmost importance. A detrimental course of illness in MDD was most consistently associated with superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF) fiber integrity. As similar associations were, however, found between SLF fiber integrity and acute symptomatology, this study attempts to disentangle associations attributed to current depression from long-term course of illness.
A total of 531 patients suffering from acute (N = 250) or remitted (N = 281) MDD from the FOR2107-cohort were analyzed in this cross-sectional study using tract-based spatial statistics for diffusion tensor imaging. First, the effects of disease state (acute v. remitted), current symptom severity (BDI-score) and course of illness (number of hospitalizations) on fractional anisotropy (FA), mean diffusivity (MD), radial diffusivity (RD), and axial diffusivity were analyzed separately. Second, disease state and BDI-scores were analyzed in conjunction with the number of hospitalizations to disentangle their effects.
Disease state (pFWE < 0.042) and number of hospitalizations (pFWE< 0.032) were associated with decreased FA and increased MD and RD in the bilateral SLF. A trend was found for the BDI-score (pFWE > 0.067). When analyzed simultaneously only the effect of course of illness remained significant (pFWE < 0.040) mapping to the right SLF.
Decreased FA and increased MD and RD values in the SLF are associated with more hospitalizations when controlling for current psychopathology. SLF fiber integrity could reflect cumulative illness burden at a neurobiological level and should be targeted in future longitudinal analyses.
Schizotypy is a putative risk phenotype for psychosis liability, but the overlap of its genetic architecture with schizophrenia is poorly understood.
We tested the hypothesis that dimensions of schizotypy (assessed with the SPQ-B) are associated with a polygenic risk score (PRS) for schizophrenia in a sample of 623 psychiatrically healthy, non-clinical subjects from the FOR2107 multi-centre study and a second sample of 1133 blood donors.
We did not find correlations of schizophrenia PRS with either overall SPQ or specific dimension scores, nor with adjusted schizotypy scores derived from the SPQ (addressing inter-scale variance). Also, PRS for affective disorders (bipolar disorder and major depression) were not significantly associated with schizotypy.
This important negative finding demonstrates that despite the hypothesised continuum of schizotypy and schizophrenia, schizotypy might share less genetic risk with schizophrenia than previously assumed (and possibly less compared to psychotic-like experiences).
Subclinical psychotic-like experiences (PLE), resembling key symptoms of psychotic disorders, are common throughout the general population and possibly associated with psychosis risk. There is evidence that such symptoms are also associated with structural brain changes.
In 672 healthy individuals, we assessed PLE and associated distress with the symptom-checklist-90R (SCL-90R) scales ‘schizotypal signs’ (STS) and ‘schizophrenia nuclear symptoms’ (SNS) and analysed associations with voxel- and surfaced-based brain structural parameters derived from structural magnetic resonance imaging at 3 T with CAT12.
For SNS, we found a positive correlation with the volume in the left superior parietal lobule and the precuneus, and a negative correlation with the volume in the right inferior temporal gyrus [p < 0.05 cluster-level Family Wise Error (FWE-corrected]. For STS, we found a negative correlation with the volume of the left and right precentral gyrus (p < 0.05 cluster-level FWE-corrected). Surface-based analyses did not detect any significant clusters with the chosen statistical threshold of p < 0.05. However, in exploratory analyses (p < 0.001, uncorrected), we found a positive correlation of SNS with gyrification in the left insula and rostral middle frontal gyrus and of STS with the left precuneus and insula, as well as a negative correlation of STS with gyrification in the left temporal pole.
Our results show that brain structures in areas implicated in schizophrenia are also related to PLE and its associated distress in healthy individuals. This pattern supports a dimensional model of the neural correlates of symptoms of the psychotic spectrum.
Schizotypy, a putative schizophrenia endophenotype, has been associated with brain-structural variations partly overlapping with those in psychotic disorders. Variations in precuneus structure have been repeatedly reported, whereas the involvement of fronto-striatal networks – as in schizophrenia – is less clear. While shared genetic architecture is thought to increase vulnerability to environmental insults, beneficial factors like general intelligence might buffer their effect.
To further investigate the role of fronto-striatal networks in schizotypy, we examined the relationship of voxel- and surface-based brain morphometry and a measure of schizotypal traits (Schizotypal Personality Questionnaire, with subscores Cognitive-Perceptual, Interpersonal, Disorganised) in 115 healthy participants [54 female, mean age (s.d.) = 27.57(8.02)]. We tested intelligence (MWT-B) as a potential moderator.
We found a positive association of SPQ Cognitive-Perceptual with putamen volume (p = 0.040, FWE peak level-corrected), moderated by intelligence: with increasing IQ, the correlation of SPQ Cognitive-Perceptual and striatal volume decreased (p = 0.022). SPQ Disorganised was positively correlated with precentral volume (p = 0.013, FWE peak level-corrected). In an exploratory analysis (p < 0.001, uncorrected), SPQ total score was positively associated with gyrification in the precuneus and postcentral gyrus, and SPQ Disorganised was negatively associated with gyrification in the inferior frontal gyrus.
Our findings support the role of fronto-striatal networks for schizotypal features in healthy individuals, and suggest that these are influenced by buffering factors like intelligence. We conclude that protective factors, like general cognitive capacity, might attenuate the psychosis risk associated with schizotypy. These results endorse the idea of a continuous nature of schizotypy, mirroring similar findings in schizophrenia.
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