To characterize the pathophysiology of schizophrenia and to identify biologic markers in first-episode patients with no or little prior treatment exposure.
Prospective study of an inception cohort.
Psychiatric division of an academic medical center with a suburban metropolitan catchment area.
70 patients in their first episode of schizophrenia (77%) or schizoaffective disorder (23%) with no (70%) or limited prior neuroleptic exposure (30%), and 50 healthy volunteer control subjects.
Demographic and clinical evaluations of natural history and psychopathology; methylphenidate hydrochloride and apomorphine hydrochloride stimulation tests as measures of central nervous system dopamine activity; brain magnetic resonance imaging; eyetracking examinations.
Preliminary analyses demonstrate that pathobiologic features previously identified in heterogeneous and primarily chronically ill patients are also present in subgroups during their first episode. These incude psy- chotogenic response to methylphenidate (59%), abnormal growth hormone (GH) secretion (50%), abnormal brain morphology (31%), and eye-tracking dysfunction (51%). An association of pathobiologic variables with increased symptom severity and earlier age of onset was observed but not statistically significant. The strongest associations among biologic variables were for the following: GH secretion and psychotogenic response to methylphenidate, which may reflect increased dopamine agonist neural activity; decreased GH response to apomorphine and thirdventricle enlargement, which may represent a neuropathologic correlate of anterior pituitary abnormalities; and morphologic abnormalities of the medial temporal lobe and third ventricle were associated with normal eye tracking, suggesting that these pathobiologic features are mediated by distinct processes.
These phenomena appear to be a consequence of the disease rather than the effects of chronicity, drug treatment, or institutionalization. It remains to be determined if these biologic phenomena will remain stable over time or change with disease progression. A companion article examines the clinical significance of these findings.