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Towards a psychosis risk blood diagnostic for persons experiencing high-risk symptoms: preliminary results from the NAPLS project

A barrier to preventative treatments for psychosis is the absence of accurate identification of persons at highest risk. A blood test that could substantially increase diagnostic accuracy would enhance development of psychosis prevention interventions. Methods: The North American Prodrome Longitudinal Study project is a multisite endeavor that aims to better understand predictors and mechanisms for the development of psychosis.

“If these results are confirmed in other groups of persons at elevated risk of psychosis, a multiplex blood assay has the potential for high clinical utility in risk identification.”

In this study, we measured expression of plasma analytes reflecting inflammation, oxidative stress, hormones, and metabolism. A “greedy algorithm” selected analytes that best distinguished persons with clinical high-risk symptoms who developed psychosis (CHR-P; n = 32) from unaffected comparison (UC) subjects (n = 35) and from those who did not develop psychosis during a 2-year follow-up (CHR-NP; n = 40). Results: The classifier included 15 analytes (selected from 117), with an area under the receiver operating curve for CHR-P vs UC of 0.91 and CHR-P vs CHR-NP of 0.88. Randomly scrambled group membership followed by reconstructions of the entire classifier method yielded consistently weak classifiers, indicating that the true classifier is highly unlikely to be a chance occurrence. Such randomization methods robustly imply the assays contain consistent information distinguishing the groups which was not obscured by the data normalization method and was revealed by classifier construction. These results support the hypothesis that inflammation, oxidative stress, and dysregulation of hypothalamic-pituitary axes may be prominent in the earliest stages of psychosis.

North American Prodrome Longitudinal Study (NAPLS 2): The Prodromal Symptoms

In studies describing the long-term follow-up up of youth at clinical high risk (CHR) of psychosis, little attention has been given to details of specific prodromal symptoms. In this paper, we describe the prodromal symptoms of 764 CHR participants recruited in the multi-site North American Prodrome Longitudinal Study (NAPLS). Symptoms were rated on the Scale of Prodromal Symptoms (SOPS) at baseline and 6-, 12-, 18-, and 24-month follow-ups. Clinical outcome at the 2-year assessment was categorized as psychotic, prodromal progression, symptomatic or in remission. Most of the CHR sample (92%) met criteria for the attenuated positive symptoms syndrome (APSS). Significant improvements in SOPS symptoms were observed over time. Unusual thought content, disorganized communication, and overall ratings on disorganized symptoms differentiated those who transitioned to psychosis from the other clinical outcome groups. Suspiciousness and total positive symptoms differentiated those in remission from the other clinical outcome groups.

Demographic correlates of attenuated positive psychotic symptoms

It is now well established that the utilization of standardized clinical criteria can enhance prediction of psychosis. These criteria are primarily concerned with the presence and severity of attenuated positive symptoms. Because these symptom criteria are used to derive algorithms for designating clinical high risk (CHR) status and for maximizing prediction of psychosis risk, it is important to know whether the symptom ratings vary as a function of demographic factors that have previously been linked with symptoms in diagnosed psychotic patients. Using a sample of 356 CHR individuals from the NAPLS-II multi-site study, we examined the relation of three sex, age, and educational level, with the severity of attenuated positive symptom scores from the Scale of Prodromal Symptoms (SOPS). Demographic factors accounted for little of the variance in symptom ratings (5–6%). Older CHR individuals manifested more severe suspiciousness, and female CHR participants reported more unusual perceptual experiences than male participants. Contrary to prediction, higher educational level was associated with more severe ratings of unusual thought content, but less severe perceptual abnormalities. Overall, sex, age and education were modestly related to unusual thought content and perceptual abnormalities, only, suggesting minimal implication for designating CHR status and predicting psychosis-risk.

Progressive Reduction in Cortical Thickness as Psychosis Develops: A Multisite Longitudinal Neuroimaging Study of Youth at Elevated Clinical Risk

Background: Individuals at clinical high risk (CHR) who progress to fully psychotic symptoms have been observed to show a steeper rate of cortical gray matter reduction compared with individuals without symptomatic progression and with healthy control subjects. Whether such changes reflect processes associated with the pathophysiology of schizophrenia or exposure to antipsychotic drugs is unknown. Methods: In this multisite study, 274 CHR cases, including 35 individuals who converted to psychosis and 135 healthy comparison subjects were scanned with magnetic resonance imaging at baseline, 12-month follow-up, or the point of conversion for the subjects who developed fully psychotic symptoms. Results: In a traveling subjects sub-study, excellent reliability was observed for measures of cortical thickness and subcortical volumes. Controlling for multiple comparisons throughout the brain, CHR subjects who converted to psychosis showed a steeper rate of gray matter loss in the right superior frontal, middle frontal, and medial orbitofrontal cortical regions as well as a greater rate of expansion of the third ventricle compared with CHR subjects who did not convert to psychosis and healthy control subjects. Differential tissue loss was present in subjects who had not received antipsychotic medications during the inter-scan interval and was predicted by baseline levels of an aggregate measure of pro-inflammatory cytokines in plasma. Conclusions: These findings demonstrate that the brain changes are not explained by exposure to antipsychotic drugs but likely play a role in psychosis pathophysiology. Given that the cortical changes were more pronounced in subjects with briefer durations of prodromal symptoms, contributing factors may predominantly play a role in acute onset forms of psychosis.

Stress exposure and sensitivity in the clinical high-risk syndrome: Initial findings from the North American Prodrome Longitudinal Study (NAPLS)

There is inconsistent evidence for increased stress exposure among individuals at clinical high risk (CHR) for psychosis. Yet similar to patients with a diagnosed psychotic illness, the preponderance of evidence suggests that CHR individuals tend to experience stressful life events (LE) and daily hassles (DH) as more subjectively stressful than healthy individuals. The present study utilizes data from the North American Prodrome Longitudinal Study Phase 2 (NAPLS-2) to test the hypotheses that (1) CHR individuals manifest higher self-reported stress in response to both LE and DH when compared to healthy controls (HC), (2) group differences in self-reported stress increase with age, (3) baseline self-reported stress is associated with follow-up clinical status, and (4) there is a sensitization effect of LE on the response to DH. In contrast to some previous research, the present findings indicate that the CHR group (N=314) reported exposure to more LE when compared to the HC group (N= 162).As predicted, CHR participants rated events as more stressful, and those who progressed to psychosis reported a greater frequency of LE and greater stress from events compared to those whose prodromal symptoms remitted. There was also some evidence of stress-sensitization; those who experienced more stress from LE rated current DH as more stressful. The results indicate that the “prodromal” phase is a period of heightened stress and stress sensitivity, and elevated cumulative lifetime exposure to stressful events may increase reactions to current stressors.

The content of attenuated psychotic symptoms in those at clinical high risk for psychosis

Recent research has started to focus on identifying individuals who are at clinical high risk of developing psychosis as a means to try and understand the predictors and mechanisms involved in the progress to a full psychotic episode. The aim of the current study was to provide an initial description and prevalence rates of specific content found within attenuated positive symptoms. The Content of Attenuated Positive Symptoms (CAPS) codebook was used by independent raters to determine the presence of content within a sample of written vignettes. Krippendorff’s alpha was used to determine inter-rater reliability. Overall, the majority of items fell in or above an acceptable range of reliability. There was heterogeneity present in the types of content endorsed. However, the most commonly endorsed items included being perplexed by reality, increased hypervigilance, being gifted, hearing indistinct and distinct sounds, seeing figures or shadows, something touching the individual, and unpleasant smells. The use of the CAPS codebook is a reliable way to code the content of attenuated positive symptoms. Identifying and monitoring the presence of certain content may provide insight into the presence of other comorbid issues and the potential for future conversion.